Tips for Young Designers: Dealing with Creative Block

It happens to everyone. The pressure is on, deadlines are looming, and there is a lot on the line—but there is one problem. You, or your team, has hit a brick wall—you have creative block. There are problems in need of solutions, and the solutions are just not cutting it. It happens to everyone, to whole teams, and it can happen to you—it likely has. What now? How do you jump start creativity?

There are a number of ways to get things going again—we’ll look at a few.

The first thing to do is relax—it will be OK. That’s a lot easier said than done, for certain, but stress and creativity can be like oil and water. Necessity is the mother of invention, but stress is simply not going to help. Here are some options to remove some of the stress and get your brain to start solving the problem at hand.

Option 1: Stop. Just step away, stop working on it and go to lunch or to a cafe or whatever. It also helps to make sure your downtime really is downtime, don’t fill the time with distraction. Just sit back and watch the world for a bit. If you can “shut down” now and then, the pieces will come together on their own. When this happens, you will know what an epiphany feels like—unfortunately you can’t force them.

Option 2: Stop. Call someone and invite them to lunch, coffee drinks. Someone who can understand the goals and top level problem (they don’t have to be a designer, better if they are not). Chit chat about other things, life, the weather, and then talk over what the site is about, the company, the opportunities, who the users are and how this site is going to help them, what they are going to get out of using the site (or whatever you are working on), the goals, and perhaps the problems (high level). In the course of the conversation, something you say, or they say, can spark an idea for the solution you are looking for or may shift your thinking entirely (sometimes with the best solution is to go in another direction).

Option 3: Set up some interview time with potential users (offer $50 for 30 minutes if you can or need to) and talk with them. Ask them how they would do X or Y, what they expect after step Z, etc. Out of the mouths of users will come solutions that will amaze you.

Still stuck? Get a whack on the side of the head with Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack. The Whack Pack is like a creativity workshop in a box. It helps give you permission to look at the problem from other angles. Also recommended is von Oech’s book, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative. Lacking a Whack Pack and in need to some lateral thinking ASAP, try Oblique Strategy by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.