By Jennifer Farley

Six Ideas For Breaking A Creative Block

By Jennifer Farley

creative blockSo you’ve a new client on the books, you’re excited and raring to go. You grab your pencil and sketchpad or you flick on the computer, fire up Photoshop and … blank. Blank paper, blank screen. Several cups of coffee and a few bars of chocolate later, the scene hasn’t changed too much.

Most of us want to create a great design, one that we can be proud of and one that the client can be proud of. And as creative folk, we don’t want to replicate our last “great design.” Pressure starts to build and you start to wonder about your ability to do the job. You find yourself surfing aimlessly for long periods through CSS galleries, but nothing is inspiring you. How can you get over this hill?

I don’t have a definitive answer that will work for everyone, but I do have some suggestions from my own experience, talking to other designers and books (before the Internet there was something called books). Assuming that you have done some planning and have figured out what your client wants and needs, and what the competitors are doing, it’s time to kick some creative block bottom.

  1. Get your ideas onto paper.
    The first hurdle people face is trying to get something, anything, out of their head and onto that piece of paper. I recommend to my students that they always start with paper, no matter how much they love Photoshop, Illustrator or whatever program they design in. You can get 5 ideas onto paper in 5 minutes. How many ideas can you put together in Illustrator in that time? It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, just scribble, sketch, doodle, write ideas, go in whatever direction you want. Distill your thoughts. Mindmaps are great for this.
  2. Start with broad strokes.
    When you’re designing a site, it’s not necessary to decide on your font face as a starting point. The fine details like this can be filled in later. Think about the big picture. What does the website need to achieve? How many sections are going to be on the site? Start chipping away on these blocks and you’ll find the path gets a bit smoother.
  3. Talk to other people.
    If you’re working by yourself, the world of creative block can be a lonely place. Forums, such as the one here at SitePoint, are stuffed to the gills with helpful people. Ask a question. I also find Twitter invaluable. I’ve made contacts through Twitter that I would never have made otherwise. There are people that I can Direct Message and ask a question or ask them to take a look at something I’m working on.
  4. Switch projects.
    This might seem counter-productive when you’re trying to get something new started, but if you’ve spent a lot of time stuck in a hole, you need to get out of it and get a new perspective. Working on, and thinking about, something completely different can sometimes be enough to break the block.
  5. You might just be bored.
    If you find yourself working on the same type of design over and over, of course you may be reluctant to get going on the same thing again. This is where personal projects are important. Recharging your creative batteries on your own small jobs can get you motivated on working for others. I design t-shirts and take photographs to fulfill my creative needs without stress.
  6. Just keep going.
    Seriously, what’s the alternative? You’re not going to let a blank screen stop you creating the next great design, are you?
  7. How do you guys get over your creative blocks? I’d love to hear.

    Image Credit: Carlos Baonas

  • Well, we do very much the same way you explained. Instead of looking for inspiration from other designs or galleries, we actually study the client industry, brand, colors, etc. and create sketches on the paper keeping in mind the functionality of the website under design.

    We shift jobs, pause them to give them some breathing space, to get a final design in couple of weeks with client coordination. Sometimes at the end of the day client solves problem.

  • Pa-Dutch-travel

    Thank you for the article. Great tips for busting out of a creative block.

  • pallu

    All above plus my favorite thing: going out for “urban safari”. I just go to center to get fresh inspiration from shapes, color matchings, but also posters of advertisement. All you need is a metro ticket, moleskine and pencil.

  • Cinestesico

    Second the motion. Strategic work (even for small proyects) is the key of success. Study the client, the brand, the customers, the message we want to put clear in their minds. Try to define a CONCEPT. This concept wil rule colours, typo and everithing else, if you have some luck this concept will lead you to brake some rules and do something briliant.

  • runescape gold

    You apparently haven’t been paying attention, because I have been complaining all day about the 3k limit, *even though* it doesn’t affect me at all personally.


    i really liked your viewsd on this design block, but another way to bust out of the block would to just you know search google and wikipeadia, and just read alot of history or something you know just get up and expand your mind on other things other than design then you know what when you get back to sitting down at the computer or paper or whatever you have some ideas of diffrent things you been reading and you saw merge in your head and you want to put down into a artistic view of design no matter what it is, theres plenty of other ways to get out of the block but thats my view. let me know what you think on that as well.

  • I bookmark alot of sites – creative and commercial for inspiration for when I come to starting a new design. I also scribble down layout and other ideas at work and home as I have a memory like a siv. I also find a lot of inspiration from books and magazines. Just never stop looking.

  • Ash

    Looking at other designs for inspiration is still something that all designers should be doing. Not every site is about creating something that has nothing else like it.

  • i usually start by using the colors based on the logo and do the same for fonts.

  • Anonymous




  • Beer helps too.

  • I just smoke a cone and browse some gallery websites. BAM! the ideas start flowing. Obviously not an approach to suit everyone but it helps me produce my best results.

  • tkemma

    Great article, interesting enough big web companies deny their staffs such opportunity, rather, they want to see them using photoshop just after discussing a project with them.

  • tkemma

    …designing is about paper, pencil, canvas, etc. Ideas are developed using paper… don’t forget.

  • picohax

    Thanks – very solid good advice.

    I would like to emphasize – get up and walk away every half hour. Makes it everything look easy and you don’t get tired.

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.