1. BrainstormIf you’re lucky, or at least less unlucky, then this is happening during the planning stages of your design and development cycle. So start planning. There’s nothing stopping you from grabbing your coworkers (if you’re not a one-person studio), and brainstorming the time away. Throw some ideas around! Now, assuming you already have some plans, you could go over them. Well, if you printed them. Or, go back and revisit ideas that you might have decided to talk about later. Well, it’s later now, and you don’t have anything better to do. Go over the core of your current plans, see how they could be improved. With the ability to jump straight into the work taken away from you, you might see something you missed, or you might come up with something better.
2. Wireframe on PaperNow, assuming this isn’t already a part of your process, grab a pencil and some paper, and start drawing out ideas fast. If you’ve already done some of the actual mockup work, try drawing out bits of the interface from memory. Use these drawings in your brainstorming session to see if you can’t come up with something better. If you already have some hand-drawn wireframes, haul them out and keep iterating. Even if you don’t use the new or updated designs, they might help you to remember why you made certain design decisions in the first place. If nothing else, affirmation is motivating.
3. Develop a Paper PrototypeIf you have a lot of downtime, why not try your hand at some arts and crafts? Paper prototypes are basically layers of paper designed to imitate a digital interface. Putting one together will give you a prototype you can actually touch and (to a very limited extent) interact with. All you really need is a paper, a pen(cil), and some scissors. Heck, work on it enough, and perhaps you could show it to your boss or clients later, to help answer any questions they might have. Here’s a great article on how to make paper prototypes, with examples.
4. Grab a BookOkay, so you’ve done all the planning you’re ever going to do. Or there’s no point because the plan has gotten sign-off from above, and everything is set in corporate stone, for now at least. What next? Grab a book. Specifically grab a book on web design, typography, accessibility, branding, graphics, or anything else you can imagine! And don’t let anyone tell you that continuing to educate yourself, grounding yourself in basic principles, or just seeking inspiration isn’t a practical thing to do. The results will show themselves when the power comes back on, and you tackle the project with new vigor, and perhaps some new insight.
5. Try your hand at predicting the futureOkay, I am not one of those guys who will tell you that visualizing success is the key to achieving it. Doing stuff and not sucking at it is mostly the key to success. However, taking some time to visualize the future of what you’re building is still a useful thing to do in small doses. Just sit there, alone or with colleagues, and imagine the thing is already built. Picture your users, and the way they might integrate your product into their lives. Make it a meditative thing. Spend five minutes on this if you’re a normal person. If you’re an over-thinker like me, maybe schedule a solid hour. Either way, you may very well come out of this exercise with a renewed will to make it happen. Or better yet, you might identify some previously unforeseen issues, and address them before they ever become a problem. And hey, this is something you can do even if you don’t have enough natural light for most of the other things on this list.
ConclusionA power-out doesn’t mean your work has to come to a complete, screeching halt. Mind you, it’s not a terrible thing if it does. Unexpected breaks are good for people. But if you just have to keep going, you can often make tangible progress with a little creativity. Otherwise, you can at least make sure you’re ready to tackle your work with a vengeance as soon as the lights come back on.
Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he’s not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy.