Sweet Sixteen: 16 Ways of Giving Designer’s Block the Boot


As designers our entire career is leveraged on our ability to create a piece of modern art. Some may take this as an exaggeration; however the truth as we know is that we create a miniature masterpiece when we design. From time to time our skills will feel as if they are diminishing and that we don’t have the ability to create designs as we had done before.

With this in mind, I have contrived a list of simple things which I do which have proven to alleviate designer’s block. Other suggestions mentioned are those which I have seen more professional and senior designers undertake when they suffered from this.

1. Deadlines

Deadlines cause stress to the best of us and the pressure can assemble such that we lose our creative skills. One must start on time and leave enough time to comfortably complete your assignment. This will help you design to the best of your ability and also maintain your respect as a designer.

It may not always be possible, however, to give yourself enough time and you may be left with very little time. The work which you will produce making rash decisions will hardly be your best work, unless you are the Leonardo Di Vinci of web design! In this scenario it may help to be completely honest with your client, of course, don’t be completely honest and tell them how lazy you may have been, rather explain you need an extension on the project. Try to sound as if it is advantageous to the client if you do this.

For example if you were to say “As I am coming close to the modifications for the finished design, I may need a couple of more weeks working on this project as I believe that will help me take this design to a higher level.”

Never underestimate the mistake which you could make by rushing a design. Personally my initial work is a pile of donkey poo compared to what I have created in the end. This is because, as artists we need to constantly change the design and revise it.

2. Your Colleagues

A great way of getting your creative juices flowing is to look at the work of other web designers. It always helps when I can see what others are doing and it makes me feel like an oaf who doesn’t do anything.

You may have different reactions, but in truth, whatever reaction you have will somehow inspire you along your career path.

3. Fresh Air

Sitting in front of a monitor all day can make your room stuffy and full of unclean air. Open the window and let some air in. My home office is in my attic and, when the weatherman allows me, I open the window and let the breeze in. It lifts me and makes me more alert and helps me become more creative.

Another way of getting fresh air is to go out and just sit in a park to relax. This will sooth your mood and causes you to start thinking more efficiently and creatively. Going to the park also helps as you will be inspired by the greatest artist, God. Looking at nature you may lift your block as you pry at a leaf’s intricate design, which leads nicely to my next point.

4. Art

Going to an art gallery can help inspire you if you have any appreciation of the arts (which you really should if you’re into web design). Thinking of the people who created the art and what they were trying to express can help inspire you and cause you to realise that you are similar to these artists. You are trying to create the expression of others.

For example, a person asks you to design a logo for their blog. The blog is about nature and saving our planet. Your job is to incorporate that message of their expression into a simple logo. You are an artist.

5. Museum

This sounded daft when a friend suggested it to me recently. I thought “How will a bunch of old stuff inspire me any more than art?” To my shock, it did and in a different way.

I went to the British museum and I came across the Lacquer pen-case and something struck me as I looked at the papier mache case made hundreds of years ago. The water colour painting of birds and butterflies with the increasingly fascinating detail to every millimetre of the case combined with the design of this case was made for the Emperor of the time. The Emperor had wanted a pen case and had one made by Ashraf ibn Riza. This is exactly like a client having a design made by you or me.

The craftsman had pried over every spec of this tiny pen case to create a remarkable masterpiece and the Emperor rewarded him handsomely. This is exactly how we make a design for our clients yet we do not think, just as Mr Raza probably never thought that centuries later people would look at what he had created and pay tribute to his skill.

6. Your Workspace

A cluttered workspace will leave you with a cluttered mind. You may want to start by organising your workspace and then later add additions to it. A clean and organised workspace ought to help you think better and more freely.

Try and add some helpful additions to your workspace which may inspire you. A new monitor, chair or even an air freshener may help.

7. Jogging

This is different to fresh air, as taking fresh air can be done whilst sitting and relaxing. Psychiatrists say that by running your brain functions better than if you didn’t run. This can therefore help when you are trying to get rid of designer’s block. You can kill two birds with one stone – get rid of your designer’s block and lose that fat.

8. Walking

Walking again is similar to jogging however, more relaxed. Not quite the same as lying on the green grass of a park, and not exactly getting hot a sweaty while running. I would recommend that you walk and appreciate your surroundings, as nature will aid your inspiration.

9. Food

You are what you eat. If you eat a fatty greasy cheese burger which has *heart attack* plastered all over it, then it is likely that you will feel fat, greasy and dead. Your brain will therefore hardly function as well as it would eating a California fruit salad.

Water is like brain food. We all underestimate how much good water does and how it can help inspire you. I read recently about a man in Africa in the 10th Century who founded a city and subsequently an entire empire from next to a river. It’s extremely difficult to build a civilization that’s not near a water supply, similarly, it’s difficult for your brain to function at its maximum without water.

10. Sleep

I probably sound like your grandmother by now, but I ensure you I am not that old and completely male. Sleep is very important, in fact doctors recommend 8 hours of sleep, however different people have different habits. As long as you sleep no more than 10 hours and no less than 6 you should be getting off to a better start.

11. Ability

I knew a designer who did not know how to use a specific application, and took on a project with the idea in mind that he would first learn how to use the application and then complete the project. The extra work of learning caused him to procrastinate and therefore use up valuable time. When it came close to the deadline he felt ‘Designer’s block’, which was actually just his brain getting overly stressed regarding the deadline.

Do not bite off more than you can chew, but also do not take on that which you have no knowledge of. This will only lead to problems in the future.

12. Aim

Do not try to aim too high every time. There may have been instances when you designed the sexiest design known to the Internet, but this does not mean you should be disheartened when you don’t reach the same goal every time. You may interpret this as designer’s block – don’t.

You should aim high, but you may screw up on a design just believing it was not good enough when it was.

13. Family

When I look into my daughter’s eyes, it keeps me motivated and gets rid of any block which could be present. As I look at her I realise that being self-employed carries its own baggage, which is that must have discipline and have the ability to keep going. This thought alone, on many occasions has helped me get rid of designer’s block.

Imagine the innocent face of your little children, or the loving face of your partner, something inside you should tell you that you need to do it for them.

Not everyone is privileged to have a constantly supporting family and sometimes family can be a form of stress when things are not going too well at home. This leads nicely to the next point.

14. Stress

You may want to look into some techniques of phasing out stressful occurrences in your life. There are several ways of dealing with problems and this is just one of them. Try to ignore those things which cause you most stress and get on with your work. It will help lower your stress levels as you will not be thinking about whatever it is, it will help you get work done and therefore prevent future stress which may be caused by missed deadlines.

15. Personal Training

There are many personal trainers nowadays and the best is perhaps, Tony Robbins. You may need a personal trainer to help you lift your designer’s block. They do really work and have transformed many people’s lives. Always check if they are genuinely qualified.

16. Realise

Realise that it is not the end of the world if you do not complete your project because you have run out of creativity right now. Keep going at the above points and you will eventually get it back. The fact remains, however, that you are a designer and people don’t pay you for regurgitated rubbish. Remember that designer’s block is only a state of mind.

What do you do to get out of designer’s block? Tell us below
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11 Responses to Sweet Sixteen: 16 Ways of Giving Designer’s Block the Boot

  1. ben holden says:

    I’m off to tidy my desk. Great post.

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  3. Jenna Molby says:

    Great post, thank you!

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  5. Murlu says:

    @ben

    I think I’m going to do the same now as well haha. It’s so messy from the last week or so.

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  8. Greg says:

    another tip: don’t browse those web galleries for hours or days searching for inspiration. try other kind of galleries (ads, posters,…) or get inspiration from everything around you and take a photographs or notes of it

  9. Kristine says:

    Greg, I think I am a victim to being addicted to looking at web galleries. You’re right… that’s probably one way of ending designer’s block!

    Great article. A lot of those things I didn’t consider! Good productivity for all I hope after reading the post!

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