The One-Hour Block Technique

Being a designer is great. You get to spend all day being creative—that is, of course, if you have all day to spend and are feeling inspired.

Unfortunately, sometimes you’re completely devoid of ideas, which can be demoralizing, especially when it affects your profit and stress levels.

Many designers I’ve met suffer from this problem occasionally. In such circumstances, some creatives choose to push on and just create something.

This is a poor use of your time, though, because it won’t lead to your best work. Others decide to take the day off, but this isn’t always viable. I, on the other hand, use a clever technique, one that I find so effective that I use it all the time now: working in a one-hour time frame.

 

Benefits

1. Saves time
Setting a scheduling goal forces you to be time-conscious while you work. If you’re keeping tabs on your time, then you’re less likely to redo designs from scratch simply because what you’ve been working on doesn’t feel right or because you’ve strayed from your client’s specifications.

At the end of each hourly period, review your work. If you decide that you’ve strayed from the original plan or gone on a tangent, then you’ve still got time to adjust or refocus. This leads us to the next benefit.

2. Forces you to make decisions
Working on an hour-by-hour schedule, you may feel a bit of pressure, which might give you a “make-do” mentality, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. One positive effect is that you will be forced to make decisions about your design while avoiding time-wasting pursuits and aimless experiments. This is what we call “getting things done.”

During the process, you may find yourself wondering “Does this work? Does it achieve my client’s goals and deliver the desired results?” Ask yourself this when making both major and minor decisions (which could be anything from choosing the radius for a rounded box to selecting the width and styling of your content).

And this leads us to the final benefit…

3. Achieves good results every time
Because you spent quality time and energy setting a series of goals and specifications, as well as delineating and following a tight schedule, your efforts will have been measured and focused. Your design will look good and will satisfy your client. It will have a clearly composed message, and the calls to action will be evident.

The designs you create in this manner will gel naturally. The forced time frame reduces tendencies toward blasé, almost random design and instead produces logical, effective designs that not only look good but, more importantly, meet your client’s needs to the tee.

Here are the steps you will need to take.

 

1. Get a good timer.

A timer application or a plain old stopwatch will keep you on track. The iPhone, for example, has a good timer that can be found under the clock application and that is easy to operate. Alternatively, you could try a dashboard widget such as Countdown X.

It’s best if an alarm sounds at the end of the hour to alert you that the allotted time has run out and that it’s time to stop working. Make sure your timer can easily be reset and has some sort of audio alert.

 

2. Plan effectively.

As you would with any project, plan the elements to include in your design. Jot down, perhaps on a notepad, the specifications for the design. These may have been provided by the client, but if not, take the time to craft your own.

You could stick to keywords such as “Add log-in field” or “Create ‘Register’ button,” or write two to three sentences on each point with additional details. The idea here is to give yourself a clearer understanding of the elements to include on the page; these become your definite goals.

It also helps to start thinking about the actual design early on. Jot down your ideas for styling and typefaces. Don’t restrict yourself; the more notes, the clearer the vision.

Perhaps your client has given you wireframes or sketches? Include these in your notes. You’ve now formed your pre-design plan and will want to refer to it regularly.

 

3. Inspire yourself.

This is where the one-hour technique really starts to take off. It’s always a good idea to fill your head with inspiring designs, interesting concepts and unique executions—but even more so if you’re feeling uninspired. Your might consider selecting websites (sometimes whole, sometimes small segments) that accord with your pre-design plan. By this I mean websites that achieve the same goals you have (e.g. increasing customer contact, driving new sales, etc.).

You are not, of course, trying to steal ideas or copy another designer’s work. The goal is to stimulate your creative impulses and hone your skills enough to execute a polished concept. Ask yourself whether other designers have solved the problem facing you.

Why did their solution work, and could you improve it? Likewise, look at your client’s competitors. Do their websites include that extra something that puts them ahead of your client? If so, consider how you could offer that extra polish. If not, what is their good website lacking that would make it excellent?

This is where innovation happens. Asking yourself these questions will help you identify the conventions that work and disregard the ones that don’t.

You could leave these websites open in your browser or simply note the URLs for later perusal. You may find a visual reminder helpful; or you could use a mood board or print-outs.

 

4. Design!

Now for the important part, the nuts and bolts of any project: the design process itself.

When you have a well-structured and concise plan, you can use the one-hour technique to its fullest. You may now start your timer and begin designing.

What sets this technique apart is the goal of completing as much of the design as you can within a single hour. Of course, not every design will be complete at the end of the hour. Taking two or three hours to produce a finished concept is reasonable. Still, breaking down the design process into one-hour blocks has numerous benefits.

Always be aware of the time. Focus on the fact that you have only one hour. Work as hard as you can, but don’t rush. Rushing defeats the purpose, which is to make decisions and execute them; and you might revert to the old way of starting all over again when something doesn’t work, which leads to time-wasting and haphazard results.

 

Conclusion

The one-hour block design method takes a little getting used to—perhaps two or three design projects—but once you’ve adapted, you’ll feel more in control of your design work and abilities.

You’ll be able to deliver consistent, reliable designs for each and every project you undertake. And you may well enjoy your work more, safe in the knowledge that your productivity is no longer constrained by your emotional attachment to the feeling of being creative.



Written exclusively for WDD by Ben Gribbin.

Do you use this technique or a similar one to streamline your work and increase productivity? Please share your views with us.

  • http://www.davidkendallwebdesign.co.uk DaveK

    Never come across this technique before, must be worth a go.

  • http://www.cssrex.com/ CSSReX

    Cool! it works :)

  • http://www.saismo.at Patrik

    hmm… Sounds interesting – I’ll give it a try someday.
    Do you do it for every step in a project? Or just when you’re stuck with a design?

    • http://www.bengribbin.com Ben Gribbin

      I try to use this on every project now, as it really helps concentrate your output ;)

  • http://elearning-20.blogspot.com Piotr

    Don’t you think that sometimes ONE hour can be a limit ? When you design you go deep into your thoughts, new world that you create sometimes needs more than an hour.

    • http://www.bengribbin.com Ben Gribbin

      That’s true, which is why I suggest when you get to the end of an hour you’re not looking for a completed design as such. Rather, the technique is best used to focus your efforts – help enforce decisions and create more consistent work. I’ve had designs that have taken 3 hours, but are still better off for splitting the 3 hours into 3 hour blocks – it gives time to review what you’ve got so far.

  • http://www.dynamicwp.net/ Eko Setiawan

    A tip I have to practice, thanks…

  • http://ds.laroouse.com esranull

    nice article thanks a lot

  • http://www.behance.net/leventegaal Levi

    YESSSSSSSSSSS!!! This was about I’ve wrote yesterday!
    The WDD is my “every day must read” site! :)))

    Thanks WDD!!

    Levi

  • http://www.rorrocket.com rocket

    Impressive!!! This is one out of the box article!!!

  • http://www.creativeindividual.co.uk Laura

    Nice to be reminded of this technique Ben. Thanks.

    I’ve used this technique previously, but only for small jobs – those which should definitely not taken more than an hour. With the aim that I don’t go over the estimated time, i.e. wasting time with unnecessary re-tweaking.

    But a great breakdown of how to use it for bigger techniques. I really think I’ll take what you’ve recommended on board because I already know it works.

    Increased productivity – here I come!

  • http://sixrevisions.com Jacob Gube

    It’s similar to the Pomodoro Technique, but the unit of Pomodoro is 25 minutes and 60 minutes.

    http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/

    I use a similar technique, but I use 45 minutes and not 60 minutes. I use the built-in iPhone stopwatch. There’s no scientific reason behind 45 minutes, it’s just the duration that works well for me. When you work under a deadline, it makes you more conscious of your work activities. You begin to avoid things like constantly checking your email or Twitter feed, all of which break your workflow. The effect is that you output more stuff in that 45 minutes than if you were just working without any defined deadlines.

  • http://www.lukasfolio.com Lukas

    Interesting idea. Will give it a try :) Thank you.

  • Maarten

    I use this productivity tool as well . Working focussed for 50 minutes without allowing any distractions. Then i give myselve 10 minute to relax, fiddle about, talk to someone and get back to work again for 50 minutes.

    It’s also usefull if you don’t really feel like working. Because just working for 50 minutes never really seems to much of an obstacle. When you finished that first 50 minutes you’re in the flow and the next one will be more easy.

  • Maarten

    I use this productivity tool as well . Working focussed for 50 minutes without allowing any distractions. Then i give myselve 10 minute to relax, fiddle about, talk to someone and get back to work again for 50 minutes.

    It’s also usefull if you don’t really feel like working. Because just working for 50 minutes never really seems to much of an obstacle. When you finished that first 50 minutes you’re in the flow and the next one will be more easy.

  • http://webstock-media.com Webstock-Media

    Nice technique, gonna give it a try! Thanks

  • http://www.kaplang.com Michelle

    I tend to find with each and every design project which I am luck enough to be working on, I come up with loads of different ideas, some good and some bad. My ideas really tend to take shape over a couple of days, not in just one hour. I know that I cannot design on demand like I would have to if I worked for an employer, this is why I chose to work for myself. I decide the deadline and know that I will produce much better results for taking my time and just giving the design a little tlc along the way.

  • http://www.websolpk.com imran khan

    Great Article!!! will try this for sure

  • http://www.tgpo.org tgpo

    I’ve with Dave, while I’ve never heard of this before, I’m interested in the idea.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Tobias

    Been trying this out today and strangely enough i’ve been getting more work done.
    Didn’t plan on it being very effective but turns out it is.
    Thanks for a great tip!

  • http://www.jordanwalker.net Jordan Walker

    Being able to focus for one hour blocks is paramount to success as a developer or designer.

  • http://brandstack.com/users/profile/VB%20Design Vectory Belle

    This is excellent advice!I’ve tried it and it works for me.Thank you soooo much :)))

  • http://www.yogeshmalik.com Yogesh Malik

    Indeed, this is a very effective technique. It beats Murphy’s law every time. I user kitchen timer and it proved to be far better than some online or Desktop timer.

  • http://www.websterdesigns.net Adam Webster

    I will have to try this technique sometime it seems like it could really help.

  • Neekko

    I actually did something similar to this last year, just for the hell of it. Every day during the month of November I spent an hour creating a website design from scratch, using only a random keyword or phrase as the inspiration. I learned a lot from doing it. The first few designs were lackluster, but as I learned how to pace myself, the designs became more elaborate. It really is a great exercise!

  • http://rachel.learnless.info/ Rachel

    Great article…useful points…thanks for this excellent post..

  • http://ericanderson.us Eric Anderson

    What book is that with the colors!?

  • Corey

    Enjoyed the article. I will try this approach.

    Also, I would like to know where the Pantone book was purchased?

  • http://www.christrude.com @trudesign

    I like most of what you say in this article, but i think 1 hour stints might be too short. when I’m really into a design, the hours fly by without me noticing. This is a good 3-4 hour plan i would say, but micromanaging down to 1 hour is rough. There is another plan similar to this that suggests 20 minute stints with 5 minute breaks(get up and walk, change tasks, research) in between. (10 working hours plus whatever lunch) thats WAY too short(Pomodoro technique I think…I won’t pay money to find out the exact technique tho).

  • katerwater

    At work, I have to make designs in 1h and 30m. So I am used to this system.

    It works very well for clients who do not need super quality, but just a nice looking, decent working site.

  • http://www.sennza.com.au/ Bronson Quick

    Great post Ben! I’ve never thought about using a countdown timer to make me stop and review my designs to see how I’m going. I often just keep pushing myself to try to force something out. I’ve lost count of the number of times I say to my business partner “I don’t think this design feels right” or “The colours just aren’t quite right” and He’ll say “It looks fine to me”. I think the timer will help make me start to “make do” as you said!

    I have always been a planning and I have as many dot points and wireframes to keep me going but I’m definitely going to pop a countdown into the mix!

    Thanks for the tip!

  • http://javatutor.net Java developer

    Nice article!!! WDD big thanks!

  • http://www.modakiyafetler.com Moda

    Very nice article again, Thanks!

  • http://www.webgambas.com Markus

    I love this technique. It also forces you to split any bigger tasks into sub tasks that will only take an hour. A great way to capture complexity on the fly.

  • http://p163.sg Angelee

    For those who have to start the process (like me!) I guess we could just start for 2 hours, then 1 and 1/2 then 1hour. This style is really advantageous.

  • ChiaN

    Thanks Ben

    Great post, I really like this technique. It will will forces you to give your 100% energy, focus and creativity. And you will feel the adrenaline rush that will result a great output.

  • http://www.tylertermini.com Tyler

    Really interesting…I am hesitant to start the technique, but it seems it pays off! Maybe this will stop my habit of taking a week + to complete a mockup.

  • jessi

    Does anyone know a good win countdown timer tool?