Creative block is one of the most crippling mental states that plague our industry. It can be defined as one’s inability to access his reservoir of inspiration needed to produce creative work. Whether it’s hitting a wall, heaving a dry spell, or developing a blank page syndrome, these are all but one and the same universal illness that can be potentially damaging when left unchecked.
That is why here at The Design Cereal, we decided to write this article to help you work a way around the wall and be able to meet client expectations. We called it honest tips, because in this article, you won’t find cliché advices such as ‘sleep on it,’ ‘take a walk,’ ‘do something else,’ because ‘inspiration comes from the most unexpected places’… No, because in reality, we know that when a deadline is looming on the horizon, one normally does not have the luxury to take a stroll, get a nap, or generally remain idle while waiting for the muses of creativity to pay you a visit.
In this article, we will give out practical tips that will not give you an excuse to procrastinate, but rather some simple exercises to keep you proactive and thinking.
1. Do Some research on your Project’s Niche or Industry
Whatever industry your project belongs to, do some reading about it. You don’t necessarily have to approach it from a designer’s point of view. Simply google their industry and read the latest news about it. Whether it is on dog training or telecom, just read about it. Gawk at it. You don’t necessarily have to understand everything you’re reading, but immersing yourself in their world will help you.
By doing so, you will begin to see the kind of people you will be designing for, the kind of environment your design will be exposed to, the kind of market your design will be sold to, and so on. The terms and words commonly used in the article should give you a visual representation of the kind of design elements to use.
For example, I just practiced my own advise and googled both Dog Training and Telecom. By reading articles on both, I’ve developed an initial idea to use warm, earthy colours suggestive of the intimate relationship between pet and owner, as opposed to professional, cool colours, usually associated with stern, corporate, telecom companies. The term dog collar gave me an idea to use a leather texture (possibly even some stitches outline) somewhere in the design. Whereas the terms mobile, data networking, cloud computing, from the telecom article suggested hints of brushed aluminum textures and gloss.
It’s just bits and pieces at this point, but what matters is it’s a start. This alone should give you a solid direction on how you could approach your design and get the balls rolling where absent inspiration could not.
2. Study similar designs
Most designers go through the same routine before starting design work – they look at a couple of designs similar to what they’re about to work on, probably hit like on some of them, then proceed to designing their own project when they feel they’ve gotten enough ideas and inspiration. Our advise here is to take this same routine and build it up a notch.
Instead of just scrolling through design collections and skimming through creative work, try to actually study one of them up close. Pick one design you’re really drawn into and meticulously look at it for a moment and observe all the details.
If you’re looking at website inspirations, pick one and actually head to their homepage and navigate through the page. Be a user and interact with the design elements. Go behind what the designer was thinking why he designed them as so; how each element affects the user’s experience with the site. If it’s a logo, zoom in if possible and observe the play between positive and negative space, the use of typefaces, the colour palettes. So on and so forth.
Looking at designs this way will not only get your mind active and working, but may also give you something to learn, perhaps a new technique to execute. Most importantly, you would have conditioned yourself to start on a design with a fresh approach needed to hurdle over that pesky wall.
3. Grab a pencil and paper
There’s nothing like good ‘ol pencil and paper to help you doodle mindlessly about projects you’re working on. Unlike a digital canvas, a blank sheet of paper isn’t as intimidating and daunting, and has a welcome familiarity reminiscent of the youthful artist in all of us.
Grab a pencil and start sketching – or more accurately for this post: exploring. Because that’s what drawing rough sketches is all about, exploring and looking into your various design options. It’s quick and easy. If you’re sketching a design, don’t worry about your lines looking bad or if they are not proportional, just move on and start another one. The idea is to generate as much ideas as quickly as you can, without having to worry about the execution and technicality. What matters is the potential of your idea, which you could further explore and polish later in your computer. That’s the magic of pencil and paper – with proper outlook, there’s not much obstruction between you and your output.
4. Copy other people’s works
When you’re completely stump, this is the way to go. Now before you think that’s just cheap advice and completely unethical, read on first.
We’re not saying to completely duplicate another person’s work and stamp your brand on it. Of course not, that’s illegal and could get you in trouble. What we’re saying is take another person’s work, then build on it. This advise is most effective for designing websites, brochures, and probably anything that makes use of layouts.
The most difficult part of designing a project – especially one that’s stricken with creative block – is getting started. You can become too lazy you don’t want to start at all. Well this one here is a quick, easy, fix for that. The idea is, you take another person’s work, explore the existing design, build on it and make it your own. Basically you do this so you get pointed to a design direction that you’d be too “blocked” to see otherwise. And believe it or not, this is being practiced a lot. Artists learn a lot from each other by copying each other’s style, adding little bits of that to their own style, which then generates a unique look. I could snatch (no pun intended) a couple of quotes from famous people about copying/stealing ideas, but you’ve probably heard or read about them somewhere online. So be shameless and just do it. Just make sure that when you’re done with it, it’s completely unrecognisable from the initial person’s work.
5. Skip the parts you’re stuck in
Sometimes it happens when you’re working on a project that you get stuck in a particular section. You just can’t figure how to lay it out, what font to use, or what colour swatch to use. This can be recurring especially when you have creative block.
The key here is not to make it a big of a deal and just skip it. Put a note or placeholder and come back to it later. The worst thing you can do is linger and wrap your head around it hoping it will solve the problem. On most cases, you will simply drain your mental and creative will and make your condition worse. Work on something else for a while, build the other components of your design. When you have a more tangible design structure, go back to the problematic section and have another stab at it.
This time you can now approach it with a fresh perspective because you now have cleared your head of the other aspects of your design which you originally still have not done.
6. Complete it, leave it, come back to it
If you have a couple of hours to spare, you can do this. Make a speed design out of your project and just come up with a minimum viable design product. Of course, this is not the output you are going to submit. This one after all was produced speedily and with creative block. Just come up with an okay design and then leave it. Don’t worry about it not looking good for now. You will work on that later. Take a break, and come back to it when you’re ready.
When you’re back, you would have rebooted your perspective and can now look at your first draft with a fresh set of eyes. Then similarly to tip #4 above, start building on it. Correct the areas you think are in need of a fix, improve the areas that can be improved upon, add some detailing here and there, and generally just tighten everything up.
This way, you can have a starting point where you can start progressing from, as opposed to not being able to start at all because you weren’t inspired enough.
To finish, what really matters is to keep working. You have to meet the solution halfway; you start working first, regardless if you’re feeling inspired or not. Then you build up towards a creative momentum which others would see as inspired.
How about you? What are the things that you do when confronted with creativity block? Please do let us know by leaving your thoughts on the comment section below.
Let me leave you with this awesome quote which I believe every professional designer should embody: