Five on Design  |  Episode 99  |  December 14, 2018

Dealing with designer's block

It’s one of the worst feelings on the planet: you sit down to start work on a project and realize that you don’t have a single creative idea of what to do. it’s even worse when you have a deadline looming, or a client sitting over your shoulder, expecting you to come up with something.

Depending on who you work with, you get some rough advice about how you can just do this” or just do that” to make it better. But as designers, we know that dealing with designers block can be a frustrating thing.

Sometimes the ideas don’t flow out for project and to be honest, that’s okay. We expect ourselves to be creative all the time. From time to time, our brains need a break. Sometimes the project we’re working on isn’t inspiring to begin with. I mentioned this in the last episode: doing design projects that we’re not that passionate about.

But that said, at the end of the day, we are paid to be creative. We have to find a way out of the rut. So how do we go about that?

A good first step is reading up on what you’re designing for. Learning more about what I’m designing for helps me gain a better understanding of the overall project. Beyond the design brief, it can open me up to some unique and specific inspiration. I try to find themes or elements that could work in my project or inspire me to focus on a specific direction.

This usually works best in instances like branding a company. Learning about their past can greatly inform their future. What’s great is that it can be applied to almost anything, from the full brand to a business card. Even looking through old photos can be a gold mine of good ideas (and a few bad ones).

If reading doesn’t work, or there isn’t much to read, taking a break and walking away is a big help. Like I had mentioned earlier, we force ourselves to be creative. This usually means sitting at a desk in front of a computer or sketchbook and trying to force ideas out. What results is something that doesn’t feel creative or it”.

It sounds counterintuitive, but not thinking about something can end up being the fresh approach you need. Going for a walk helps the most, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. You don’t need to wander through the woods or down a busy street. Even taking a lap around the office helps. 

By getting your mind out of a stuck mindset and into something else may trigger something that helps inspire you. 

If I’m working from home, doing mindless chores helps too. I can do something like the dishes or laundry with minimal thought.

If I’m working in an office, it could be as simple as reading the paper in the break room. It doesn’t have to be a large production that you sometimes see on social media. 

Another thing that helps is getting input from others. Sometimes getting additional perspective can change how you approach your work. It’s great if you can talk with other designers, but don’t discount non-creative folks either. 

When we force ourselves to be creative all the time, it’s easy to run low on creative energy. Non-creative staff can be the creative boost you need. Anyone from the secretary to a developer or marketing manager can help. People have all sorts of input or ideas. It’s not to say it’s always great, but it may get you going down a path you hadn’t considered. 

Last, working on another project can help too. Similar to taking a break, it shifts your mind on to something else. You can get on a creative roll with a different project and use that momentum to tackle the one you’re stuck on.

No matter what, designers block stinks. But at the end of the day, there’s a few things here that can get you going on a design and help you find something you’ll be happy with — and one you’ll be excited to show your clients.