As designers there is one thing we can all relate to, that one thing we all try and avoid, that one thing we all hate to experience, that gets in the way and can cause us much anxiety. That little menace… creative block. How do we overcome this force of negativity?
Over the years I’ve noticed that this seems to be an extremely common question in the design community. From every webinar I watch to all the Q&A, this question always seems to pop up.
In this article I will be answering a question from Simone Van Galen, who asks:
“What do you do when you lose your creative flow? I’ve had days when I just stare at my screen. Knowing I got work to do but just don’t know how to start, because I got this creative block.“
Now it’s not often I lose my creative flow and I rarely experience creative block. There is a good reason for this, which I am going to get into in this article and I’ll also be discussing ways that may help you if you sometimes experience this. My conclusion is that the creative block is the consequence of one or a combination of four things.
- Lack of Insight & Ideas
- Lack of Inspiration
- Need Time To Digest
If you are reading this and experiencing creative block then I imagine you probably suffer from one of these four. So in this article I am going to discuss what you can do if you suffer from one of these four challenges.
Chances are if you are having creative block it could be because you’re overworking yourself and you’ve hit a wall. In this case, the consensus here is to simply take a break. Being creative and pushing your mind to generate ideas can be quite demanding. Don’t just push through for the sake of it to make yourself feel like you have achieved something or like you’re being creative. It’s a waste of time.
Don’t work hard, work smart!
Accept that you are tired and step away from the computer. Try to take your mind off the work and recharge your batteries. After a few hours or even a good night’s sleep you can return, fully motivated and fresh.
Now if you are full of energy, raring to go and you are still suffering with creative block, this could be down to other reasons which I think are more common, especially amongst new and young designers.
Lack Of Insight and Ideas
Don’t mistake creative block for lack of creativity. Chances are you have all the potential just not the direction.
If you find yourself looking at a blank canvas not knowing what to create or where to start, then this may be a consequence of just not having much of an idea or understanding the subject matter of what you’re working on. If you’re trying to force an idea and can’t think of one, then you may feel you are experiencing a creative block.
Creative block is simply the lack of ideas or knowing what to do. If you knew what to do you would have no block. To overcome this, take a step back and take more action to learn, research and discover and, as a result, ideas will sooner or later show themselves to you.
I’m an advocate that good design has meaning and should be based on good reasons and answers to complex questions put forward by a brief. As a designer you are solving problems, and you will want to produce the right answers to the questions. It’s rare that ideas, especially profound and fresh ideas, will just pop into your mind. As a designer you want to avoid making arbitrary design and making it up as you go along.
As I said earlier I rarely experience creative block, and this is because I always put a lot of time and energy into research, development and planning before attempting to develop creative work and solutions on the computer. I always aim to generate and discover a good idea, or a bunch of ideas, I want to take forward and have a master plan before getting onto the computer to do the artworking to bring them to life.
So what I always like to have in place before creating work is:
- A good idea or few ideas
- A master plan
- Decisive direction
These three things guarantee that when I come to the computer I already have in mind exactly what I need to tackle, so I rarely experience creative block.
If you’re experiencing creative block due to the lack of ideas, you can take steps to overcome this.
- Accept that you’re stuck and don’t have an idea
- Take a step back from the creating part of your project
- Go back to the research and discovery phase
- Put time into research and learn as much about the subject matter as possible
- Connect the dots from what you have learned to unearth ideas
- Plan what you need to do, what you are going to do and what you want to achieve
- This will present a decisive direction which will keep you motivated
In the process of doing all this, ideas may start to jump out at you. Capture these ideas and make a note of each until you feel you have exhausted your research and understanding.
With ideas in hand, you can then take them to the making table. You’ll find that before you start to artwork and create you will have several ideas you will want to explore. Then as you explore and develop those, more sparks will fly and soon you will have the trouble of having too many ideas instead of too few!
Now on occasion you may know everything there is to know about a subject matter and still not have an idea of how to approach a solution. If this is the case then you may be suffering from another common creative block issue.
Lack Of Inspiration
Another common struggle for designers is having an idea but struggling with how to implement it. If you are struggling with how to implement your ideas creatively then I would recommend undertaking more visual research. If you are struggling with a particular creative problem, then it may help to look at how others have tackled the same or similar problems.
Remember this is not to copy, but to take inspiration. Seeing what others have done can often inspire options which have not been done, which you can explore and develop into a fresher alternative route. You want to spend this time learning, discovering and being inspired by what you see. So, if after doing your research and visual research there is still no idea that comes to mind, then it could be the case where you need a little time to digest everything you have.
Need Time to Digest
The ideas generation process cannot be rushed! This is why it’s wise to allocate adequate time to discovery and creativity and not put too much pressure on yourself to deliver ideas on the spot or at specific times.
Just like we need time to digest our food to absorb its nutrients, so do we need time to digest the information we receive to absorb the information to create.
Typically when I am working on a project, I will spend a lot of time researching, learning and discovering, and not put too much pressure on myself to come up with an idea quickly. I generally allow myself a few hours or even days to digest what I have learned, and then without intention an idea will come to me. It is common amongst designers who expose themselves to lots of information to have some of their most creative or bright ideas when they are not trying or even actively thinking.
So before you sit down to start creating your design on your computer, ask yourself:
- What’s my goal?
- What’s my master plan?
- What ideas do I want to develop?
Make sure you have adequate answers to these questions. If you don’t then chances are you may run into creative block. Make sure you are well prepared before you start creating your design on the computer.
Remember, Planning Is Key!!!
If you ever have creative block, take down this list, pin it up and go through it and I hope it will guide you to greener pastures!
When you’re suffering with creative block:
- Don’t just push through for the sake of feeling like you are achieving
- Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself as anxiety will kill creativity
- Don’t mistake creative block for lack of creativity. Chances are you have all the potential, just not the direction
- Accept that you are stuck
- Take a step back and rethink your approach
- Undertake further research on your subject matter to learn and discover
- Undertake adequate visual research
- Give yourself time to digest
What are your thoughts? How do you tackle creative block? Let me know in the comments below! And if you’ve got any questions regarding design, pop them in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer them.