Secrets from the world's top 20 web designers

Eric Jordan

The founder of 2Advanced designs cutting-edge Flash for clients such as Adobe and Ford, but one of his favourite projects is version 3 of "It was one of those projects that just didn't need a lot of revisions, over-thinking or storyboarding," he recalls.

"It was created at a time when Flash was relatively new and so you could feel this electricity in the air. It all just came together like magic. The site ended up winning the Adobe & FWA's most influential site of the decade award in 2006."

Jordan rates the "fascinating" Peter Jaworowski of Ars Thanea: "His design is so vibrant and intricate; it's full of detail and love". But he worries that the work of too many young designers is becoming "excruciatingly minimalised due to the emergence of the Apple-design mentality that has been sweeping the industry".

His advice for new designers? "If you don't set yourself apart and you simply jump into the Web 2.0 glossy-button bandwagon you'll get lost in all the noise. Do what you do best, and don't be apologetic. When all is said and done you'll be recognised for how unique your work is."

Fabio Sasso

Abduzeedo is one of the most inspiring design sites on the internet, with stacks of hands-on tutorials from Sasso himself. If we were feeling trite, we'd say it's proof that every cloud has a silver lining, as Sasso started the site "after I had lost all my stuff when my office was robbed". But we aren't, so we won't.

"I believe the most important thing is understanding the context of the work you have to get the inspiration for," Sasso says. "The first thing for me is to understand what I have to do and for who I'll be designing for, the target audience. Then I'll limit my possibilities and that will make the process of finding inspiration more efficient in books, sites and pretty much everywhere."

So which designers inspire him? "As far as influence goes, I have to mention Paul Rand, Carlos Segura and David Carson for their importance in design history," he says. "As for the web, I really admire Vitor Lourenço, one of the designers behind Twitter. I love the simplicity of his work and how efficient it is. There are more guys, such as Collis Ta'eed from Envato, Jason Santa Maria and Jeffrey Zeldman, and there are the graphic designers, guys like James White, Joshua Davis, Eduardo Recife, Scott Hansen and many others."

Mike Precious

Asked to pick a favourite project, Mike Precious plumps for Candy Bouquet. "It represented an open and flexible collaboration environment between the client and myself," he explains. "The end result, with a few compromises, represents one of the web dev projects I produced with exceptional results." It's a typically gorgeous Precious production.

Where does this stuff come from? "I find my greatest source of inspiration comes from being away from anything to do with computers, the web and the daily grind of design disciplines," he explains. "For example, I recently designed and built a flagstone patio out the back of my home. I had the opportunity to get outdoors and experience a whole new palette of colours, textures, sizes and materials."

Such projects often feed into his work, as does online inspiration including "CSS galleries, Twitter and the occasional trip to YouTube for an informative or comedic video". His peers are another key influence. "Hats off to my colleague, Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain," he says.

"I've known Jesse for a number of years now, and while entering the web development community after working in print, he was a mentor and major influence both on the creative side of design and, even more so, in the technicalities of design. Other influences include Derek Nelson and Jason Santa Maria."

Mark Boulton

Mark Boulton used to work for in London as an art director before working as senior designer for the BBC in Cardiff. "This was before I took leave of my senses and formed my own design consultancy, Mark Boulton Design," he explains.

His recent book Five Simple Steps has been described as a "triumph" (Jon Hicks), "The best web design book you can buy" (Malarkey) and "better than sex" by A List Apart (with the addendum: "Of course, being a magazine, I've never had sex").

Veerle Pieters

The standards evangelist and CEO of Duoh! has a dream: "My dream is that I have a small contribution in making the interweb a better place," she says. Pieters is particularly proud of the four years she spent working with the US Library of Congress on its Learning Page project: "They were always very challenging, most creative and a lot of fun."

And if we were to describe Pieters' work in a single word, fun would do nicely. There's a real sense of warmth and joy to her design work, whether it's a logo or a corporate CMS. "I usually get inspired the most if I'm in a happy mood, not pressured, a bit disconnected with the real world even," Pieters says.

"For me, inspiration has a lot to do with how I feel. In general if I'm happy I'm very perceptive for ideas. I often get ideas right before I fall asleep." Which designers make her jaw drop? "There are many," she says. "At the top of my list are Scott Hansen of ISO50, Robert Lindström of North Kingdom, James White and the very talented illustrator from Spain Mónica Calvo."

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.