Secrets from the world's top 20 web designers

Cameron Moll

With plaudits from the likes of Jeffrey Zeldman, books such as CSS Mastery (the second edition of which will be out later this year), a must-read blog and a portfolio of beautiful websites under his belt, you'd expect Cameron Moll to have a giant, rampaging ego. Nope.

"I'm not at a point in my career, and perhaps I'll never be, where I'm satisfied with the body of work I've produced," he says modestly. "I'm certain that I have much better work to produce." For Moll, inspiration can come from "just about anywhere. I grew up playing drums. I love astronomy. I did a lot of woodworking when I was younger. I'm enamoured by letterpress. I have four wonderful sons and a beautiful wife. All of these people and activities are partly or wholly some form of creativity, and ultimately a source of inspiration. It isn't difficult to draw ideas from these sources that in turn influence my work."

Moll is also "constantly inspired by the potential of upcoming designers. I love meeting other designers, especially those just beginning their careers, when I travel to speak at conferences. They'll often ask how I got where I am today with conference speaking, book writing and the like, and usually at some point in my reply I'll tell them that I expect to see them doing the same sometime later in their career. Plus, I'm competitive by nature, so it pushes me to be better, knowing some of the best talent we've yet to see is just around the corner."

What advice would he offer? "Master the instrument of design by studying and emulating work from those designers you admire most. Spend less time trying to define who you'll become and more time studying the greats that have come before you, past and present. Your artistic personality and individuality will emerge more readily and sustainably if you first become a great designer, second one who is known for a particular style or niche – not usually the other way around."

Shaun Inman

You create the intriguing, sort out web typography by creating the sIFR (Shaun Inman Flash Replacement), and build the highly rated Mint analytics system.

Shaun inman

SHAUN INMAN: Fever is one of the best RSS readers out there and well worth the $30 price tag

What next? If you're Shaun Inman, you then create the extraordinary RSS system Fever. And the Shortwave browser addon. And the Horror Vacui strategy game for iPods and iPhones. And a giant robot horse with laser beams for eyes. We made that last one up.

Carlos Ulloa

As if creating Papervision3D wasn't enough, Carlos Ulloa also produces beautiful work for firms such as Sony and Absolut. "I find inspiration in all things people enjoy," he says, "from nature itself, animals and plants to the latest interactive work being created on the PS3 and the iPhone. I'm also very interested in toys and games of all kinds."

The rally car on Ulloa's website is coming to the iPhone in a game called Helloracer, and there's also the small matter of Ulloa's studio website,, which will be unwrapped in September. "It's the most technically advanced piece I've worked on, but it's the interaction that makes it very special. After too many months fine-tuning it, I'm very happy with the result."

Martin Hughes

As famous for their irreverent attitude as their skills, it's perhaps unsurprising that WEFAIL have become the go-to guys for the more interesting bits of the music business, with a client roster including Eminem and the Dixie Chicks. Co-founder Hughes' own site is a bloody, disturbing mess, and we mean that as a compliment.

"In the early days I found inspiration from print designers and dragged all that into Flash, where I'd then ruin it all with my own take on it," Hughes says. "But nowadays I've become blinkered by my own stuff and haven't looked beyond it to see what everyone else is doing.

"That makes me a bad designer, shameful. But the last time I did actually lift my head up and had a look at what was going on in design land, it all looked a bit rubbish."

In addition to his own site – "I feel I really poured my soul out, you know, about losing my hair. It was the most difficult chapter of the site to work on, so many memories and tears came flooding out, and I think it shows" – Hughes is particularly proud of Julian Velard's site. "It was the last job that we pretty much had free reign over, so we could make it in any way we saw fit."

Who does Hughes rate? "Early Hi-ReS!, the movie sites they made … Donnie Darko and Requiem for a Dream, wonderful sites," he says. "I'll always love Neasden Control Centre and Michael C. Place, too."

Thierry Loa, aka Dr Hello

Hello Hello is rapidly running out of room for its various awards, and no wonder: Thierry Loa's been doing some jaw-dropping things with Flash, ranging from "surrealist presentations" for an architecture website to powerful corporate CMSes.

"I always like to say that design is just a subset of what I do," he says. "Other creative disciplines inspire me a lot too, because to me design is just one form of creative communication and problem solving." Loa cites Dan Friedman's book, Radical Modernism, as a key influence. "That book and his words made me realise a very important thing," Loa explains. "Designers should be, above all, thinkers!"

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.