10 Ways to Rid Yourself of Designer’s Block

We’ve all been there. You have a huge project that is due soon, and you have a lot of ideas that still need to fall into place. You’re sitting in front of your computer trying to crank out each portion of your agenda when your brain hits a brick wall. Nothing you’re coming up with seems like it’s any good, you feel uninspired, and you just can’t find the traction needed to make any progress on your project. We’ve all been in this situation; designer’s block can derail any designer or any project. But, a veteran designer is prepared for designer’s block and remains ready to break through that mental barrier whenever it spontaneously appears. Below are ten ways to destroy designer’s block, reduce frustration, and maintain productivity.

Simplify Your Project

When you are stuck on a project that feels too big to bear, break it down into smaller pieces. Attack the problem one part at a time. This will make it far easier to handle, because solving small problems one at a time is far more orderly than attacking them all at once. Once you get started and solve one part of the problem, the juices begin to flow, you get into your groove, momentum carries you, and the remaining parts of your project start to fall into place like dominoes.

Create a Checklist

Creating a checklist will help you stay organized. Sometimes, even the most organized designer lets his or her work get out of hand. Writing down all of the objectives that you need to meet for a project will help you to better gauge the scope of the entire project. Creating a checklist is also extremely helpful because it will ensure that you don’t forget anything. Most importantly, it frees your mind from keeping a mental list of tasks in your active memory, which can obviously take precious brainpower away from your actual design work.

Stop Being Overly Critical

Being critical of your work is good. You should scrutinize everything that you do. However, there is such a thing as being too critical, and this will kill your creativity more quickly than anything else. It’s okay that things aren’t perfect while you are working on the right solution for your client. Once you put everything together, you can refine it and polish off the presentation. Worry about solving the problem effectively, and tweak your work later. Don’t worry if your design isn’t perfect yet; it only has to be perfect at the finish line, not during the process.

Don’t Overthink Your Work

I’ll be perfectly honest with you. My best design work has come from when I stopped being so exact about designing things, and just started designing. I didn’t sit and think out every little aspect of what I was doing. I had a vision and I ran with it. In design work, intuition can make you a real star. Intuition seems natural, and things tend to fall into place. Being meticulous about every little thing can make your work look forced and rigid. It’s perfectly fine to set yourself free every once in a while and save the reviewing process for when you have something substantial to review.

Break Out the Sketch Book

This is a textbook answer, but it is absolute truth. Many times, you can’t create anything great because it just doesn’t come from pushing pixels. I’m sure you know one of those designers that can sit down in front of a computer and flop out a 5-star poster or website design without any drafts or sketches, but that doesn’t always work for everyone. I guarantee that even they get designer’s block every now and then and have to break out their sketchbook.

Your sketches don’t have to be works of art in themselves. They can be quick and dirty, simple shapes, scribbles, or anything else that helps you quickly hammer out ideas. These sketches are for your eyes only. No one is judging you, so you can literally try anything. Make notes, grab markers and mix colors, doodle, it doesn’t matter as long as it helps you find an answer to your design dilemma.

Research Other Art Styles

Depending on your client, you might have to venture outside of your comfort zone. In this case, you are going to have to do some research. For example, suppose that you are creating a website or an advertisement for a skateboarding company. An idea pops into your head to do a graffiti-style design for their site or their logo. No one expects you to just know how to create a great looking graffiti type style. This is the case where you would go online and look at graffiti images and styles and create a folder with images that you like. From all of your gathered research, you would develop sketches for you client’s logo based on the styles from the graffiti images that you collected. Research is a vital key to creating great designs that fit the needs of your client, and it broadens your horizons and expands your skill sets at the same time.

Talk to Other Designers

Sometimes you need someone to bounce ideas off of. Sometimes we get tunnel vision in our own work, and a fresh perspective helps to broaden our view. I can’t tell you how many times I have been stuck on a project, and a ten minute phone call or a short email session back and forth with another designer got me going again. Everyone approaches problems differently, so asking another designer what their thoughts are might spark a unique solution to a design problem that you hadn’t considered before.

Take a Real Break

I know this doesn’t make sense, but bear with me. When you are stressed out, you don’t think clearly. Stress is like a rush hour traffic jam for your brain. You get flustered more easily, frustrated more quickly, and the pressure causes you to make decisions that you normally wouldn’t. You can counterbalance stress with a real break that involves leaving your desk and truly putting your work on hold. A positive attitude and a good mood can work wonders for getting your groove back.

Create a Mind Map

You can create it by hand on paper, or you can use mind mapping software. Whichever method you use, it will help you with word association. You start out with words that have to do with your subject, and you branch out with terms that are related to those words, as well as possible solutions. The idea is that you will eventually make abstract connections that you wouldn’t have made by just sitting there staring into space or a blank pixelated canvas. It gets you thinking about relationships, which can lead you to unique and creative solutions.

Work on a Variety of Projects

Working on the same project day after day, or working on only one project can give you tunnel vision. If you have multiple clients or projects to work on, switch projects whenever you become stuck on one. This will keep your mind fresh and give you a second attempt later at a task that stumped you now. I can’t tell you how many times I have wasted the day focused on one project. I eventually got it done, but I find that if I set daily objectives for each project, I tend to get more done because I get to change gears frequently. For example, I’ll set a goal to have the footer designed for a website today. When I’m done, I stop working on that project and work on an objective or two from another project. This will ensure that you don’t allow yourself time to tweak and fiddle with the same project and end up undoing your work and spinning your wheels.

Conclusion

Designer’s block is a real productivity killer. However, if you do some of the things listed above, you will smash through your creativity roadblock and create exciting, inspiring work. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there and do nothing.

What do you do to relieve designer’s block? Which of these ten is your favorite? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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  • A. Curtis

    Spot on! All of the suggestions above are great; I follow all of these during my “blocks”. Great writing.

  • asaakius

    Thanks for these tips! Especially the mind map idea.

  • Sandy D.

    This is a really good article. Has made me start thinking …

  • http://www.nickclarkewebdesign.co.uk Nick

    Enjoyed your article. Some great tips. Thanks.