I kept a stack of sketches of imaginary features in a cerulean blue folder. Some of the features in 3.0 could be dated way back to year 2002. I am actually surprised that the feature is so obvious but no other messengers have implemented.
Inspirations come from everywhere. The most obvious source is the Trillian Forums Feature Requests. I usually go down the list with the most posts first and then downwards. People have a lot of interesting ideas and the idea becomes more sophisticated as more contributions come in. My job is mainly about organizing them so it integrates back to the whole user interface in a meaningful way. Looking at other messenger helps too, but copying features is a no-no to me, if the feature is not being understood and known how it is related to what we have.
Understanding what each feature does is an important part of the design process, and I tried to read books about user interfaces and semiotics and communication psychology and design psychology (and blah to make it sound like I read a lot but not really) to get a better idea of what I’m actually designing. It helps thinking what Trillian is really about in a long run. We all know that at a certain point that text messaging may eventually go out-dated, unless we are able to grasp the significance of it.
Sometimes inspirations come from looking at how things display information. Watching BBC World is great, especially those screens between commercials. The more obvious inspiration is the introduction of medium globes, a design decision we are forced to use due to legal restrictions, which the colors of circles come from the London Underground subway lines. When I was in London last month, I kept thinking that Piccadilly line is for MSN Messenger.