Creating a Morgue File

Dustin Diaz’s latest post got me thinking about gallery websites and why they are so popular. I love to see the latest and greatest css designs at all the screenshot galleries, but many of those sites feature the same designs, and they’re marketed to the same people. I’m sure that the philosophy behind the maintenance of these projects is (at least partially) altruistic. They want to provide a resource to other designers and inspire creativity with a database of good design. The idea however, is not a new one.

Back in college, one of my first graphic design teachers was a guy named Jagdish Chavda. He was a snappy, and sometimes rude little Indian man…but he had a wealth of knowledge about graphic design. He was the kind of professor you either love or hate, and it looks like things haven’t really changed. One of the most useful “tings” he taught us was to create a morgue file whenever we worked on a large project. The concept is pretty simple. If you’re doing an illustration or marketing project that involves trains, you clip out and print up anything you can find that might give you inspiration and keep it all in a folder. Should you ever need to do another project involving trains, you’ve got lots of inspiration to pull from.

The morgue file idea kinda slipped my mind until a few years ago when I was working on a website layout. I found myself looking for a similar layouts to the one I wanted to create to see how other people handled the background textures. That was when I decided to start my digital morgue file. I started collecting images from the design interact site of the week, cssvault, and a few template sites. Easy enough, just save images to a folder on your computer. If you’re trying to save a lot of images though, it gets a little tedious. There are a bunch of tools out there to help you programmatically pull images from a website, but for OSX users, there’s already a powerful tool for that in your applications folder.

The program is called Automator and it has an intuitive and easy-to-use interface to automate just about anything. To get you started with your morgue file, and to help you figure out Automator.app, I’ll post some .workflow files below as I get a chance to create them.

PS – If you want to contribute an Automator script, or have any other good uses for Automator, please zip up and post a link to your .workflow files below.

4 Comments

  1. Jason,
    it would be neat to see perhaps a section of your site that displayed this morgue of graphics. whether it be a photo you took downtown, a scribble you drew at 1am, a background you saved from a gallery site, or a screenshot of some beautiful typography. Display that stuff in thumbnails and give a little one sentence blurb… that could really catch on. To me it would really show what’s going on in a designer’s mind. Just a thought.

  2. It would be awesome if a site had actually built this function as part of the site. I’m on Windows so I can’t say much about Automator, but I do find the CSS galleries useful for inspiration. It does get annoying having to check through every one of them (just in case one of them has a unique site that others don’t) only to find the same links over and over again.

  3. That’s a pretty fun idea, Dustin. I don’t know that it would show what’s going on inside my mind (I don’t even know half the time) but it would be at least interesting.

    Oliver, this won’t be as efficient as the automator script, but at least it’s open source. There’s a program called HTTrack that I used to use on PC. It’s designed to grab a complete copy of a website and configure it for offline viewing. It grabs images as well though, so it works for creating a morgue file.

  4. I’m a big fan of the MorgueFile idea as well. I keep a folder on my desktop of my Mac called “Inspiration” with a kooky little icon – in there i have folders for illustration, web, email design, and misc. When I find a layout I love, or a cool illo, or just a well-designed module stuck inside a mediocre layout, I do the standard Mac marquis screenshot (cmd-cntl-shift-4). Then I paste my find into a new Photoshop layout – helpful for perusing thru at a later time, and for websites with multiple levels, using Photoshop works great b/c of the layers. If I’m just sharing cool finds with PC folks, I could also paste the contents of the clipboard into a Word Doc and pass that along. I’ve been doing this for at least 5 years now – and have plenty of CDs full of great stuff!

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