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.
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.
There 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.
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.
Away from a browser, all kinds of things in “real life” can spark your imagination.
Stop 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.
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?
And 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.
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!