5 ways to deal with creative block

Some days you’re in the zone, smashing through tasks one after the other, and ideas come easily. But every now and then you might find yourself sitting down to start a new project, and feeling stuck like you don’t know where to begin. Or maybe you’ve done your research, and presented initial concepts to the client but just can’t seem to move on to the next step. Here are a few strategies that I’ve found work for me…


1. Don’t panic, you’ve got this.

There can be many reasons for “creative block”, but whatever the cause is, the most important thing you can do is stay calm and confident. If you’re experiencing negative thoughts about the project (worried about timelines, doubting your skills etc) then take a moment to think about whether there’s any real validity to these concerns.

Think strategically about what you can do to reduce stress, and tackle any other issues that are worrying you. If it’s about the deadline, then talk to the client or your manager (depends on the situation) to see if there’s any possibility of an extension. Or if it’s a fixed deadline you’re working to, then ask your colleagues (or another freelancer if you’re solo) if they have capacity to help out. If lack of confidence is the issue, then have a look through previous projects you’ve worked on – it’s easy to forget the challenges we’ve overcome in the past, especially when as designers we tend to work on a lot of short projects.


2. Return to the brief

Returning to the brief can be a great way to regain focus, and identify whether there is any missing information that could help you. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up on one aspect of the project and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Also, if a client writes a brief, they can often leave out important information that they simply don’t realise designers need. That’s why it’s always best to talk through the brief with them, or if you’re just doing emails then send them a confirmation of the brief after your initial discussions. That way you can confirm exactly what they need, what their expectations are and the deliverables required. If you feel like the brief hasn’t provided enough guidance, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with the client again, even if you’re working to a tight deadline.


3. Take a rest

Despite reading all those articles about how sitting at our desk is killing us, designers are still pretty bad at taking care of our health. A lot of the time we find ourselves in situations where we need to do extra hours, work through lunch, skip breakfast and so on. It’s easy to feel like missing a meal or a few hours of sleep won’t have a huge impact on our work, or that it’s worth it to get the extra work done. Sometimes that’s true, but I think if we are honest with ourselves, most of the time we lose more productivity than we gain overall.

There’s only so long that extra caffeine will hold you up. I’m not saying that you should feel bad about pushing yourself to work hard, but just remember to look after yourself – drink water, take breaks, stretch, get a decent amount of sleep, do things that make you happy. There’s only so much we are physically capable of, so if you’re finding it hard to concentrate or lost in that brain fog, then take five.


4. Mix it up

handsome hipster modern man designer working home using laptop at home

Human brains aren’t the best at concentrating on one task for a long period of time. So it’s only natural that you’ll find it hard to come up with creative concepts, new layouts or ingenious typographical solutions after staring at the same document for several hours. If you’re a very organised type of person (or work to billable hours and have a good studio manager) then you will be accustomed to having your day divided into hourly (or half hour) blocks of time, allocated to various tasks. But if you do find that you’ve been asked (or tasked yourself) to work on a single project for a long time then I recommend scheduling yourself some breaks. Not just the eat, go to the toilet, go outside kind of breaks but also allow yourself to work on different types of projects.

For example if you’re working on typesetting a long report, then let your brain have a break by work on a poster or something else more visualfor a while. If you’re working on a website, maybe take a break to do some research for one of your other projects. Or if you’re working on a digital illustration then perhaps go outside with your sketchbook for 15 minutes to get away from the screen. When I was an art student we were always told to step back and view our artwork from several feet away every once in a while, to get a better perspective of how it was progressing. When I step away from a project to work on something else and then come back to it, I often find that I’m able to look at challenges more objectively, instead of worrying about whatever it is I was stuck on (that font, that colour, etc).

5. Collaborate

Whether you work in studio, in-house in an organisation or solo, everyone needs someone they can go to for feedback and honest advice. As a freelancer I usually find that person among friends (designers and non-designers), my client, and my partner (sometimes my cats help too). In my office design job, I’m lucky to have a friendly and supportive team I can test out my ideas on. I think it’s important to possess a healthy amount of confidence (as mentioned in my first point), but it never hurts to admit when you’re stuck.

Sometimes if I’m not sure about concepts I’ve been working on, I’ll show someone else and they’ll end up loving the concept that I thought was the weakest. Or sometimes they’ll tell me that they don’t think any of the concepts meet the brief, and that’s ok too – the important thing is to be open to other perspectives. Sometimes talking someone else through your work is all it takes for you to realise a connection that you’d missed previously, or figure out a way to further develop a concept.


What strategies do you use to deal with creative block? Tell us in the comments below.



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