5 simple ways to beat designer’s block

Designer’s block is no joke and it always seems to come around when a project’s deadline is quickly approaching.

You just can’t seem to create anything with enough power or spunk—heck, you may just be staring at your screen or sketchbook for hours straight.

It’s truly no fun at all to feel stuck and helpless, especially when your work seems to keep piling up. You feel like you’re stuck in a box, trying to figure a way out. You may try to do something, like step away for a few then come back, but what if that doesn’t work?

Relax and try not to stress. Take a look at these five simple ways you can help yourself remove the block and create some really amazing work before your deadline passes.


1. Listen to music

If you’re anything like me, music helps your creative process and is absolutely essential. Now, I’m part musician, so I understand and break down music a bit differently than those who are not. However, as a creative, music relays to me different emotions and also different colors and shapes and stuff. If I hear a good song, I can create a whole picture or scene based off the one song. If you have ever listened to a song and thought about an ideal music video for it, then you can relate to what I’m saying. Good music creates good images for you.

When you are at a blockage, new music can really open up the images you see and create. Sometimes we get used to stuff and we need new things to broaden our horizons. We all have our favorites and our classics, but listening to the same music can get boring and pretty much render the same images we see in our heads.

As a musician, I like to listen to things outside of my normal genres because certain ones can get a bit repetitive. If you know you dislike other genre’s, try listening to newer music inside your favorite genre or find old music by your favorite artists. Once you find something, listen to it and let your imagination run wild. Hopefully you’ll have a sketchpad so you can jot down the things you see.

This is my personal go-to when I feel a block even coming on. If you want a place to start discovering new music, I recommend Spotify and 22Tracks.


2. Inspiration is NOT a rubric

Creatives can draw artistic inspiration from almost anywhere, but we typically end up perusing the Internet for inspiration when we get stuck. We like to hop online and see what everyone else is doing. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad idea—I mean, how else are we supposed to keep up with what’s modern? The issue is just that after awhile, pretty much everything starts to look and feel the same. If you desire to be a true innovator, you’ve got to see and do things differently.

Perusing through pages of work that is already created is typically helpful, but it seems some designers look at a creative solution and try to attach it on to their own project. For example, if you see a project that uses colored squares and bold text to get the point across, that shouldn’t mean you should do exactly the same. It should, however, signal to you that there is a creative solution in using colored shapes and playing with type weights.

You want to look at inspiration not as a way to design and decorate things, but to understand it as a solution to a problem. This is why I tell folks to frequent inspiration sites that allow you to get a bit of background on the subject. The finished product is nice, but the inspiration is not the design; it’s the solution and the way in which the solution was achieved.


3. Go outside

The answers to your creative block are everywhere, but the greatest place to find solid inspiration is the great outdoors. Mother Nature has put together probably some of the best color schemes and shapes and so much more. Think about what you’re looking for and how it interacts with other elements. The freeness, and depending on your location, the serenity of being outside is just so helpful to the creative process. And Mother Nature doesn’t mind if we borrow a couple of ideas from her.

So, what if you don’t live in a place packed with insects and shrubbery? Man made things are just as interesting. As a matter of fact, I find a lot of people gain inspiration from architecture. Buildings are powerful and are often so consistently themed—they also give you great insight into interaction between different textures as well as interactions between different shapes. Incorporating some of the things you see in the city into your projects can end up being extremely beneficial.

And if you don’t get along with insects or taxi cabs, check out a museum.


4. Forget about it

If your deadline is 24 hours away, then this may not be the best idea, but pushing your project to the back of your mind can really help you come up with some of your greatest ideas. When we think about something too hard we tend to live life around it; we talk about it, we ask questions about it, etc. When you do this, you are forcing something to come out of you that may not be there–this can stress you out and ultimately be unhealthy.

When you’re in a place or situation where you have to deal with the topic, it doesn’t always help. Some of our best ideas are organic and come up through the most casual conversations and actions. I went to school to learn about advertising, and one of my professors would always tell us not to talk about our projects with our partners when conceptualizing. The idea was just to have an organic meeting, click with the individuals and the space and get something out of that.

It sounds absolutely farfetched but some of my greatest ideas came out of just casually talking with someone. Think about it; we react well to things we can relate to, especially when talking about ad campaigns or something that an audience will see. When we force ideas out, they tend to come out just that way–feeling forced and unrelatable. Find a partner, grab a cup of coffee and just talk to someone about something totally unrelated and see what you come up with.


5. The bare minimums

This is a really simple idea that I like to use whether I’m stuck or not because it really helps me create my own style. Whatever your design program of choice, just use the stock plug ins.

We love to look for Photoshop brushes and extra filters, etc., but I think being creative really comes from within and what you are able to create. When we get into the excess things, we start to really rely on them and they become center pieces for our designs. There are some essentials for sure, but using the bare minimums in your design program can really get you to thinking about different techniques and building ideas around them.

Eventually you can create your own textures and vectors and so forth, but having all the excess removed gets you into experimenting with different tools and filters. Perhaps you can find something you like and enjoy and roll with it.


Relaxation is Key

When your projects deadline is coming at you full speed and you have nothing, it’s so easy to tense up and stress out. If you’re feeling designer’s block coming or you feel the stress about to flood in, the answer is simple: just relax.

Designer’s block is totally natural and often bound to happen. Relax, get loose and pick up your sketch book. Figure out something that works for you to get your creative juices flowing and begin to execute.


How do you like to get over your creative block?

  • Anonymous

    great article!!! Music for me is def. key!

  • Anonymous

    The best way, is to design at 3am.  Try it if you haven’t done so.  The logical mind goes to sleep at night, but the creative lobe continues to work.  Works every-time. The key is to drink tea, not coffee at night, cause Coffee at  night does not work, tea does. 

    When it comes to browsing the web or other avenues for inspiration, at the end you come out only more frustrated, unless, lets be hones, you found something to copy.  Forgetting about it, does not work when the project is due in a week, and relaxing about it, only postpones your work and will bite you when the project should be presented the next day while you’re still relaxing, drinking calm tea and meditating.  Going outside is synonymous with forgetting about it, and listening to music is synonymous with relaxing.  My point, try my idea, it works every time.

    • http://www.DustBunnyMafia.com/wordpress/ Bret Juliano

      I’ve never tried the 3am thing, but I may try it some weekend when my normal work-schedule doesn’t get thrown off.

    • yuppy

      Agree. My schedule is really f*cked up but I’m most creative at 1-4am than at any other time frame.

    • http://twitter.com/val_berger val berger

      this strongly differs from type to type. some peolpe need a regular workflow from 9:00am till 6pm to be productive and can’t think of any work afterwards. other people can’ think during the day. 

      I think, one reason, why nightshifts may work out is, that your brain is turned on a kind of dream-mode, enabling you to think beyond the rational, getting the most out of your creativity. 
      But actually, there are quite many creatives, who get up in the morning and start creating awesomeness. don’t really know, what’s their secret though ;)

  • Dankazi

    This post is a relief! I was begining to think I’m a bad designer for having to seek inspiration sometimes in Music and going out with my kids. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one with designer’s block syndrome… Great post! And helpful.

    • http://twitter.com/val_berger val berger

      you should never underestimate, that even the best designers are human after all. everybody experiences those blocks. the better you get, he better you know dealing with them, but no one’s got a brain like a computer. and if so, even computers tend to freeze sometimes :)

  • http://www.DustBunnyMafia.com/wordpress/ Bret Juliano

    Great suggestions. I tend to utilize going outside as one of my best resources. If I am at work, I can afford to take 10 minutes and stroll around the block and I usually come back a lot more refreshed and ready to get back to work on that project, plus you never know what you will see that could spark the necessary inspiration.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, going outside has been my secret for years!

  • http://twitter.com/val_berger val berger

    I really agree with #5. Reducing all creative assistances to the necessary minimum is the way to go.

  • Danielmckendry

    The one that works best for me is to ‘Forget about it’ sometimes it can be hard to forget about it, but really, just go out, hang out and relax, play the xbox, whatever, just completely forget about what you’re working on and at the most unexpected times the answer to a problem you’ve been working on or whatever it is you were doing will just pop into you head for no apparent reason, it’s great when it happens, it makes me laugh, but it woks best for me.

  • http://www.hermeshandbagoutlet.com Hermes Birkin

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing. I love this.

  • http://ultimatewebsitedesign.co.uk/ Kevin Sinfield

    Thanks for the post, I find listening to music helps me, plus a bit of day dreaming!

  • http://twitter.com/life_snap Life Snap

    Rather than working all day, our body needs relaxation as well.

    We can’t act as a Machine working all the time.

    Listening to Music is so much soothing, going out and interacting with our people and nature is the best way of recreation!