Beating designer’s block

As a web designer or developer, you may not think much about where your inspiration for visual layouts and elements comes from – not, that is, until it seems to run dry and you can’t assemble even a handful of pixels into something you can be proud of.

Designer’s block can be thought of as the visual equivalent of writers’ block, and it can be just as frustrating and counter-productive. I went through a period of designer’s block recently, and for almost three weeks, every time I tried to work on a site design, my mind went blank.

As you can imagine, my frustration led me to thinking about the nature of inspiration, and so this post gradually came together while I was failing to produce any useful work…

It seems to me that getting inspiration as a web designer can fall into three categories: online inspiration, offline inspiration and indirect inspiration. I’ll explain what I mean.

Online Inspiration

A website lives online, not in a vacuum, and looking at other websites can be a useful source of inspiration. If you’re building a website for a hotel, it’s logical that you would take a look at some other successful hotel websites, to see how they convey their brand and present their content.

Be sure to consider other websites critically – think about the negative things you see as well as the positive – this can help you build a list of things to avoid in your design.

Colours

Browse Palettes -- COLOURlovers_1314619262328There are loads of sites on the web that let you experiment with colour pallettes – you can pick a colour and see colours that may go well with it, or view pallettes that other people have found work well.

Currently my favourite colour resource site is Colour Lovers – I can almost always find a pallette there that sparks my creative process.

Templates (!)

Yes I know, most website templates available on template sites are awful – either they don’t work how you want them to, or they look too much like a template. And yes, I know you’re a designer and you have your pride.

But if you browse through one or two template sites, you may well find a colour scheme, navigation menu or illustration that you like, and that may just be enough to get your own creativity going again.

Make sure you only look at template sites that charge for their templates – that way what you’re looking at should be halfway decent, and half or full-size mockups are normally shown, even if you can’t download a template without paying.

Offline Inspiration

Away from a browser, all kinds of things in “real life” can spark your imagination.

espressoStop at a chic pavement cafe, have an espresso, and while you’re there, take a look at their menu. But don’t look at the prices – check out the colour scheme, the layout, and the fonts.

Splash out on a couple of interior design or architecture magazines (or other “arty” topics – but not web design) – and as you leaf through, look at the advertisements as well as the articles. Adverts in this kind of publication are often very sophisticated in terms of design and layout – who knows, there may be something you could use.

Have a conversation with someone you know well, and tell them what you’re trying to create. You may find that something they say (or even something you say!) will make you think of something else, which will make you think of something you could put together on screen.

Indirect Inspiration

When all else fails, walk away from the project and go do something you love to do. A hike, a cycle ride, a swim, coffee with a friend, play the guitar, watch a movie, it can be anything that occupies your mind and distracts you from the block.

When you come back to your project, try changing the way you work. If you normally design a website using Photoshop, try putting together an HTML layout first, then add images one by one. And vice-versa of course. In the end, this is how I finally solved my recent block – I normally create a new website design using HTML, and then create images as I need them, so this time I opened up Paint Shop Pro and composed the whole layout as a multi-layered image.

In fact, why not take a pad of plain or squared paper and a bunch of coloured pencils, and see what happens when you explore ideas without even touching the computer?

Environment

porcAnd while you work, think about what tends to enhance your creativity, and what can get in the way. For example, if you find it hard to work with other people around you, find somewhere you can be alone.

If you like to listen to music, experiment with your playlist. At the moment I find Porcupine Tree and Ludovico Einaudi particularly good for keeping me focused and creative.

Make sure your workspace is comfortable, and that you have everything you need to hand. Make sure you’re not too hot or too cold, deal with any reflections on your display, and remove distractions (if you keep thinking about all those plates piled up in the kitchen sink, go and wash them – then they can no longer be a distraction).

Don’t Give Up

One important thing to remember: designer’s block is temporary. You’ve been creative before; you will be creative again. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t try to force it, and don’t lose your confidence!

18 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for the article I agree completely. When it comes to websites having designers block can be one of the most frustrating times. Even more-so then writers block in my opinion. As someone who went to college for 3d modeling and animation. I can definitely tell you that having designers block at a college like that can be a big problem! lol

  2. Well said Andy! You can get your inspiration from the smallest of things, you just need to open your eyes 🙂

  3. It’s a mystery as to why we develop writers blog, designers block etc. Having a way to look for inspiration is something we must all have. For me, running, reading or just relaxing are ways for me to come up with fresh ideas.

  4. Everyone needs inspiration in their creative careers. Thanks you so much!

  5. I really love the Colour Lovers site. Saved me a few times!

  6. Thanks, interesting article. I like the “indirect” section about doing something totally different – I think that can help a lot.

  7. A really interesting read and surprisingly I can relate to quite a few of those tips on how to draw inspiration. I think that look around you and taking inspiration from un related web design things is something I probably don’t do much of though. This is something I am going to try though as I think its a great idea so thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Great piece, most people write simple 5 point bullets but you really fleshed out how to get back in gear. I personally like to browse magazines for inspiration – both by their content but also for their unique layouts.

  9. Great post – keep it up!

  10. This article is like a real inspiration for graphic designers. Thank you 🙂

  11. Designing can be tedious when you have been doing it for quite a while. Eventually, one runs out of ideas. It’s always good to take a breather, otherwise the things that you do will all look like a copy or duplicate of past works. I agree with all of your suggestions. Relax and stay away from stressful envronment. 🙂

  12. Im in a constant battle with my brain to keep things fresh, i find that going on a web crawl and reading other peoples blogs and twitters often leads me to inspiration

  13. I am dependent on offline inspiration (a walk in the park or visit to the local coffee shop) and environment to conquer my designers block. It’s amazing at what odd times inspiration comes, so I usually try to keep a notebook handy to jot down my ideas when they come, even at 3 am. Really great article. Thanks for sharing.

  14. wonderful put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I am confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

  15. As a designer myself, I always encounter this problem. My solution to this is to browse on some design blogs such as behance and abuzeedo. It gets my creativity rolling. THanks so much for this post.

  16. This is a great post, I particularly liked the offline inspiration bit – I’m so addicted to ‘screens’ but I know I need to get off them to tap into other forms of creativity. Thanks

  17. Solid advice. Especially love the environment tips. A messy desk certainly throws my mind of design.

  18. Specially love the environment post. Great post.