Working Through a Creative Block: 8 Surefire Ways to Get Back on Track

As a Web designer at a digital agency, my job requires me to be creative—all the time. It’s easy to say that design is a learned skill, and to an extent this is certainly true, but design is so much more than just moving around pixels in Photoshop. Good design requires research, data, a creative eye, and a lot of thinking. The bottom line: it takes time and patience, and sometimes trial and error.

Creativity isn’t just about skill, it’s also about your mindset and whether or not you’re inspired. So when your job is to be creative full time, you’re going to have days where you’ve hit a mental block. This is completely normal, and although it may sometimes feel impossible, you can manage to overcome it.

Here are some of the methods that I’ve found most helpful for battling creative blocks:

  1. Create a Mind Map.

Remember Mind Maps? These were the fun visual diagrams our teachers would make us draw where they’d write a word or an idea in the center of a circle and then a bunch of lines springing out of it where you could brainstorm any relevant thoughts or ideas that came to your head about that topic. It might be old skool, but it’s still a great way to get an initial idea (e.g., image strategy, design technique, color scheming) off the ground.  

mind-map-image

  1. Experiment.

When first being given a design problem or working on a project, you may either have too many ideas or none at all.  Let’s say you’ve started to work on a website redesign and—with the exception of some wishlist items that a client has asked for—you have the opportunity to basically do whatever you want. This means you can experiment with different stylistic treatments and elements to be used in the design.

Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Pick one section of a design and start there. Maybe instead of starting with the homepage, which might seem to be the most logical place to start, you begin designing an interior page. Or more specifically—maybe you’re having trouble with the header of the page, so move on to an element further down the page.
  • Create a separate file for experimentation where you can address multiple ideas at once. This will allow you to play around with several ideas at the same time and to see what’s working vs. what’s not more quickly.
  • Experiment with different types of imagery and ways to incorporate that into your design, whether that means playing with color, pattern, scale, shape, animation, illustration, etc.
  • Play around with typography. Try different fonts, mixing typefaces, or using typography in an unconventional way.
  • Try different ways to break up the page. Use whitespace to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to break the basic principles of design.

Don’t restrict yourself. Try the unexpected!

  1. Print your work.

There may be times when you’re working on a design and everything is going great. You feel confident with the direction that your work is going and how it’s coming together. Then, all of a sudden, you realize you don’t know what to do next. This is a great time to print out your work and step away from the computer screen, even if the design isn’t completely fleshed out. By printing out your design and looking at multiple pages at once, you can better visualize the work you’ve already done and determine what your next steps should be. It can also help to spark new ideas and identify areas you might want to change.

  1. Go somewhere quiet.

I’m the kind of person who needs peace and quiet to really think. And that might be difficult to find when you’re in an office or a shared working space. (Fortunately at Delphic, we have a few small rooms that can be used to get away from the regular office buzz). If possible, try to find a quiet place to think and brainstorm ideas, whether that means finding an empty conference room or office, talking a walk around the block, or grabbing a cup of coffee and just taking a break for 15 minutes. Giving yourself time to clear your head and get away from the noise for a bit will help you feel less distracted and will make it easier to focus your attention back on your work once you’re ready.

  1. Always have a pencil and paper handy.

Ideas come and go all the time. When I’m working on a project that consumes the majority of my time, I spend a lot of time thinking about it outside of work. This means I might have an idea for a design at any given moment—even when I’m sleeping!  As soon as a new idea pops into my head, I like to write it down or sketch something out quickly so that I can look at it later on. I always have a miniature Moleskine notebook on me and a pen for this exact reason.

  1. Step away from your work.

There are times where I’ve worked on the same project all day and I eventually have no more mental energy left to focus on it. If you find yourself hitting that point, step away from your work for a couple hours or sleep on it and pick it back up tomorrow. The time away from it will help you to recharge and gain a fresh perspective.

  1. Look for inspiration everywhere.

Just because you’re designing a website doesn’t mean you should just look at Web design for inspiration. Pull from ideas and concepts from numerous sources—design books, photographs, signs, typography, interior spaces, etc.—to help keep your work fresh. My personal favorite websites to look for inspiration in all mediums are Designspiration and Dribbble.

  1. Ask for advice.

Lastly, one of the best ways to work through a creative block as a designer is to ask your team members for advice. When you work in a digital agency with tight deadlines collaboration is the key to success and being able to ask for help when you need it is extremely important. Many designers are perfectionists, and we don’t like showing other people our work until it’s at a place where we’re happy with it. But if you’re at a point where you’re out of ideas, don’t be afraid to ask the people around you for design advice. They might think of something that you might have never thought of, which could improve your design in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Have another way you like to work through a creative block? Share it in the comments!

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