Creative designers are bound to hit at least one of these Creative Block in their lifetime.
Whether you’re a UX designer, writer, illustrator, graphic designer, or involved in another type of creative design, creative blocks happen to us all.
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Whether the cause is self-doubt, lack of motivation, or experiencing more criticism than you can handle, creative blocks aren’t there to stop you permanently. These blocks are there to make you pause, reevaluate, and take another angle on the project you’re working on. They’re there to push you forward.
It may take hours, days, or even weeks to overcome a creative block organically and have the natural creativity flow back to your mind, but you may not have that kind of time. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome this issue without having to wait for your own mind to catch up.
6 tips for mastering the creative block
Before we go over the cure, let’s understand the disease.
A creative block is something that creatives of all types will experience at one point or another. Writers get their own type of block (writer’s block), but the definition can be expanded to any creative practice. A creative block is what occurs when someone experiences a slowdown or complete halt in their inspiration and loses the ability to produce their creative work, whether it be design, writing, or otherwise.
It’s extremely frustrating, especially for those on a deadline, to suddenly lose momentum. It can make us feel like we’ve lost our talent and failed our client. Often, designers attempt to overcome this feeling by pushing themselves harder, which can lead to further burnout.
It’s important to recognize that this is experience isn’t there to hurt you. Instead, it should be treated as a signal that the direction you’re taking in the moment is one that should be taken elsewhere, or stopped entirely for you to remain successful in your endeavors.
Creative design can take a lot out of a person, and creative blocks are necessary in order to keep an imaginative mindset in check. It often takes time and patience to let your mind be refreshed and approach things from a different angle. If you don’t have any time to spare, here are a few remedies to cure you of your block.
1. Brain dump
Sometimes, a creative block isn’t the result of no ideas – instead, it’s a result of too many. To combat this, pull them all out of your mind and onto paper. It doesn’t matter what the project is or what kind of block you’re running into.
Can’t think of the word that fits best into a sentence? Write down all of your options and their synonyms, and mix and match until you find the best fit.
Can’t conjure up the perfect color scheme to fit the mood you’re trying to communicate in your illustration? Research color psychology and list out the hex codes that make the most sense for your project.
Can’t come up with the right font to fit your rebrand? List the ones that you like best and do a pros and cons of each option. Mockup a word in design amongst your brand elements and get opinions from others to see what works best.
Sometimes, all it takes is exhausting every option to uncover the one that you didn’t even know existed in the first place.
TIP: Mind mapping software can help you keep your abundance of ideas neat and organized so that you don’t lose track of how one concept connects to another.
2. Open your eyes
This might sound a little hippy-dippy, but while you’re experiencing a creative block, it’s important to become hyper-aware of what’s around you. When you make the effort, there’s no such thing as the mundane.
Pay attention to the fonts being used on billboards as you commute to work, color schemes on cereal boxes, the rhythm of your dog’s pitter-patters on the kitchen floor, and the angles of the photos in magazines. The inspiration you need to break through your creative block could be hiding in plain sight.
Sometimes, the best ideas are hiding in the most unexpected places.
3. Great artists steal
Like blogs are available for writers to gather inspiration, there are websites and social media profiles for those with an interest in creative design to surf for hours in order to collect new ideas.
If you’re smart, you know that this website isn’t just for recipes and workout routines; it’s an outlet for anything and everyone, including creative designers. Entering the keywords of the style you’re looking for can bring up projects that other designers have posted that might just be the “off” switch to your creative block.
Sites like Pinterest and the options below are also good for the opposite; as you’re looking through all of the results, take note of the things that you want to be avoiding. Ugly color schemes, poor line work, and overall bad compositions will be lined up right next to some of the good stuff.
Owned by Adobe, Behance is a creative portfolio management software that serves as a community for designers around the world. Designers can share their designs and the creative processes behind them. If you’re seeking ideas, use a hashtag in the search bar related to what you’re searching for and surf through hundreds of thousands of different artists’ takes on what you’re seeking.
Mix and match their ideas, and don’t forget to sign up and submit your own results when you’re done.
Dribbble is a networking and self-promotion platform for any and all digital designers: web design, UX/UI, brand, and illustration. Similar to Behance, if you’re experiencing a creative block, go ahead and search for just about anything in Dribbble and prepare to be amazed.
In addition, it never hurts to post what you’re working on and ask for critiques. Other designers coming from all different walks of life are sure to have something to say.
4. Never look back
A great designer once said, “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.”
That designer is right. While the above point references having an overwhelming amount of ideas as the cause of a creative block, there are times where creative blocks occur because there are no ideas at all.
When we are at a loss, we tend to look back on past projects and ask ourselves, “How come I didn’t have an issue designing that? Why am I experiencing so many problems now? Am I losing my creative streak?”
Avoid this way of thinking.
Creative blocks are often not a lack of effort, but a lack of inspiration. Effort can be forced; inspiration cannot be. Attempting to look back at the success you’ve had in the past and shame yourself for the lack of drive you have in the present, you won’t be able to achieve the result that your heart is searching for.
Instead, focus on the now. Acknowledge the past in the sense that you know you are capable of producing something great, but be sure not to turn that into pressure on yourself. Cut yourself some slack. You’ve done this before, and you can do it again.
Sometimes the relief of pressure is all someone needs to be hit with inspiration.
5. Step away
Creative blocks can be a panic-inducing experience, making you only want to work harder to get over the slump.
Go in the opposite direction, and stop everything.
If you must work, try approaching things in a different way, even a different medium. If you’re an illustrator, take pictures. If you design literally, read up on abstract design. If you’re in animation, go about it kinesthetically instead of digitally. Brand designer? Pull out the crayons.
If you can afford to call it quits for a few hours or days, do it. Record where you are with project management tools and take a break. Watch a movie, go for a walk, take a drive, bake a cake. Anything you can do to get your mind off of the project will help you to clear the cache and come back fresh when you’re ready.
6. Take a tutorial
This may sound like a step backwards, and it is. But it’s a step backwards in the right direction. Taking a tutorial to learn a new skill or refresh an old one brings you back to the basics of creative design, no matter what your medium is.
Sometimes, creative blocks are caused by overthinking. By taking the time to go back to those basics, you can undo the overdrive you’ve sent your brain into and give it a quick refresh.
Full steam ahead isn’t always possible.
When we start a new project or have a great idea, most creatives know that the momentum that’s there at the beginning rarely lasts through completion of the project. There are ebbs and flows, and it’s important to be self-aware and accept that. It may even be smart to prepare for a creative block, especially if you’re working with a client who has a deadline.
Knowing what revs up your inspiration engine is key to overcoming creative blocks, but there are very few people who have that answer.
Instead, remind yourself that you’re not alone, seek inspiration from others, take a break, and know that you’re capable of excelling. You’ve done it once, you can do it again.
BIO: Daniella Alscher is a content marketer for G2 in Chicago. She graduated with a degree in English from Bradley University and often writes articles with a focus on graphic design and advertising.