Every designer experiences a creative block from time to time. It doesn’t mean you are a bad designer because of it, even the most experienced designers’ face creative blocks sometimes.
However, experienced designers know how to deal with creative blocks so that they cause the minimum delay in their projects. And they have learned this from having gone through a lot of creative blocks along their professional lives.
If you work in a creative field, you will also have to face create blocks from time to time, and must find the best ways to overcome them. Not every way will work the same for everyone, so you must identify what works well for you and what doesn’t.
Creativity is the ability to come up with new, unique and original solutions for existing problems. Creative thinking isn’t a natural gift, it’s something that can be taught and learned.
Today I’m sharing my own tips to grasp ideas to resolve creative challenges faster and avoid creative blocks. I’m also sharing some tips on how I overcome these blocks when they happen.
Causes of a creative block
Your inability to come up with good ideas could be caused by an external factor. If that’s the case, address the root problem of what’s blocking and preventing you from concentrating and focusing on your work. Here are some common reasons of creative blocks:
- Too many distractions
- The project is too big for the designer
- Physical (or mental) health issues
- Personal difficulties
- Unsuitable client/project (the designer is not a good fit)
- Stress or tireless
Although quite often the cause of a creative block is an external issue that needs to be addressed, sometimes you simply run out of ideas.
Avoiding creative blocks
Knowledge is an important factor of creativity. The more you know about the problem the easier will be to find a solution. Being constantly consuming and retaining information is one of the best ways to avoid creative blocks. Here are some tips:
1. Have a journal
Ideas come and go quickly. When they come try not to let them go. Find ways to store your ideas to be reused in future projects. This is how I do it:
- I carry several journals in my bag: one for sketches, another for blog post ideas, other for resources, etc.
- I also take photos of everything I find inspiring from my phone.
- I have Pinterest boards for everything, and constantly pin images on them
- I have hundred of lists in Trello to organise ideas in smaller groups.
2. Stay curious
Having a list of learning resources will help you read, learn and be informed of the latest industry news and trends. This is what’s on my list:
- books to read
- industry magazines and e-courses I’m subscribed
- blogs and podcasts I follow
- event calendar of upcoming courses, seminars and webinars I want to attend.
3. Surround yourself with creative people
Hanging out with other creative fellows and sharing ideas can be also a great way to learn and increase your industry knowledge. Here is how I do it:
- Join meet-up groups
- Attend networking event
- Organise catch-up coffees with industry fellows
4. Travel and explore the world
The more you travel, the more you experience and learn. Traveling and living abroad has been the most enriching life experience I’ve ever had. It took me out of my conform zone, made me forget about the traditional ways to do things and see the world from a new angle. All of this has significantly improved my ability to find uncommon solutions to given problems.
Overcoming creative blocks
Having a creative block is stressful and produces anxiety caused by the fear of failure. It’s a difficult situation that needs to be overcomed as quickly as possible. When I find myself in one of these creative blocks, this is what I do:
1. Deconstruct the problem
When the problem is too big or too complex, divide the problem into smaller units and address one by one. For example, when designing a website I start with the simplest things: planning the sitemap, then the wireframes (layout), after that I design icons, boxes and other graphic elements and finally I design individual pages.
2. Take breaks
Sometimes walking away from the computer for a while help you relax, rest and come back to the problem in a better state of mind. Working many hours with no rest will only get you overtired, impacting in your ability to focus and think straight. To avoid this situation I work on blocks of 2 or 3 hours and take an hour rest at least between blocks.
I never enjoyed exercise until I realised how much it stimulates my creativity. Going for a long walk in the evenings, a run on the beach early in the morning or 45 mins yoga class, can help your creative juices flow and bring ideas faster.
This other article on “The cognitive, emotional and neural correlates of creativity” by The University of Amsterdam, Netherlands shows how body movement helps overcome mental blocks and lack of inspiration.
4. Have a nap
One of the best things about my Spanish heritage is the siesta. During my days as university student, I found out that waking up early in the morning and having a nap in the middle of the day helped me keep my focus on my studies for longer and retain information faster.
When I get stuck on a problem, a nap helps the brain to rest and reset so that I can have a fresh start after.
This other study by University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that human memory develops during sleep time periods, which helps your mind access ideas hidden in the subconscious.
5. Bring the client into the creative process
As a freelance designer, I don’t always have the input of a team to help me come up with ideas, but I can have my clients’ help. They’re usually happy to participate in the creative process, have plenty of information and knowledge on the problem that I’m trying to resolve, and together we can come up with amazing ideas after a brainstorming session.
When you get stuck in a creative block, what do you do to get out of it? How do you reset yourself and overcome the creative block? How do you keep your creative juices flowing?