Sep 24, 2013

As a designer, every day tends to be different.   There are some days where I sit down in the morning and have the ability to crank out thoughtful, inspired designs and others when I can’t seem to get in the zone.  On these days it feels as if I’ve hit a wall, my mind is completely blank and I am straining to bring forth even the smallest amount of creative energy.  Sound familiar?

From the urban dictionary, Designer’s block is defined as: “When any form of a designer can’t come up with creative ideas.  Similar to writer’s block in the sense that nothing gets done.  I can’t think, I have terrible designer’s block!”

Even the best and most experienced designers experience this type of scenario, but what can you do to help get back in the groove and turn your day around?  Here are a few tips to unclog those creative juices and get back in the zone.

1. Loosen Up

Designer’s block often comes when you are trying to force yourself to be creative, straining your brain until it hurts to think.  Loosen up.  Stand up, stretch, or take a walk.  We get so focused in our work that we often slouch and hover over our computer keys like a sloth hugging a tree.  Not only does this pose cause your posture to suffer, it is also unsuitable for good design.  Shake your arms once in a while and stretch those legs!

2. Distract Yourself

People always say that if you can’t solve a problem then you have to walk away from it for a while and work on something else.  I think that very few people have the ability to actually do this.  If I try to switch to another task, I find my mind slowly drifting back to my original problem – thus perpetuating the designer’s block. Instead, I now try to distract myself with a completely different focus.  I will choose music, a news article, or even funny animal photos to turn my brain in a completely new direction.  If you shift your focus entirely away from design, it is more difficult to get caught drifting back towards your original frustrations.

3. Play Around

By this I mean try playing around with a different tool in Photoshop, Illustrator, or another design program that you aren’t proficient at.  If you have already mastered every tool in your programs, buy a new plugin or update your software.  There has to be something you haven’t learned yet.  Sometimes messing around with tools or watching a video on new ways to use a tool can spark your creativity in a way you never thought possible.

4. Surf the Web

Inspiration can come from all sorts of places.  I’ll look through design-specific websites like or designsponge when I can’t seem to get creative but I also will turn to non-design related sites as well.  For me, browsing photos on Travel Channel, or recipes on Bon Appetit sometimes get the juices flowing better than any creative-focused website.  At any random time, an image can excite you and cause your brain to start firing again.

Design inspiration - Bon Appetit

Design inspiration – Bonappetit

5. Doodle

Put pen to paper and just start drawing.  You can draw something you see around you or just mindlessly doodle.  Sketching without a specific focus or purpose can loosen your hand and cause you to draw something that might spark an idea.  I often will draw different shapes over and over and see what I come up with in the end; the negative space can create interesting designs in and of themselves.

Author Personal Photo

Author Personal Photo

The next time you experience the mind-numbing pain of designer’s block, try these simple tips to renew your imagination and get creative again.  This may not always be possible because of deadlines.  However, if you can, start following these tips to learn how to change the way you handle a block.  Sometimes you have to walk away and stop looking for inspiration in the usual places, and where you find it may surprise you.  Freeing your brain of design-related thoughts can often lead to feeling creative again.