In the book Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kleon writes about how to get inspiration for any project. His theory is that every idea is stolen; there are no new ones; everyone is just imitating something they’ve already seen. So when you’re starting a new project and need inspiration, just find great examples of what you’re trying to create and steal (imitate) them.
The second step is to subtract everything you dislike about your inspiration. “Creativity is subtraction” is an idea he repeats often. In doing so, you will come up with something unique.
I use these techniques myself whenever I design a website. I start out by searching for websites for that type of business, and I also keep a bookmark of “cool websites” to refer to later on. Although I copy elements from other designs, I always find myself subtracting the elements I dislike, and adding others that I like, changing them to suit the information and graphics for my project, so in the end the website is totally unique.
Kleon also has other interesting ideas. He offers the service of “drawing events,” or coming to an event and sketching the people, places, ideas, and conversations. He also wrote the book Newspaper Blackout, in which he took newspaper articles and crossed out most of the words, leaving only a few that formed poems. Here’s one of my favorites, “Childhood.”