What to Do With Designer’s Block

Illustration of designer's block

I recently found myself completely stuck trying to decide on a blog post topic, when a fellow A+L designer suggested I write about being stuck. Well, that’s a good idea. I grabbed some coffee, sat down to write, and immediately felt stuck again. What is it with feeling stuck? Where does it come from, and what can we do about it?

Stuck means being unable to move or go anywhere; trapped. It is not knowing how to proceed or move forward. This is an inevitable and common part of any creative process. It is an interesting spot to be in because so many possibilities can come from it. As frustrating as it is to be stuck, it is a good thing. It forces you to challenge yourself and do your best work. Here are 10 suggestions that have helped me mentally refresh when I have been at the creative crossroads.

Sit down and brainstorm. Rather than expecting ideas to just come at you, sit down and make a list. Once you focus on putting in the mental effort, solutions tend to come forward. Something about making a list makes me want to keep adding and adding. These tips for being stuck were much easier to come up with than the topic itself because I had already committed to the list.

Stay open. Don’t write off options if they are less than ideal, just keep the brain flow going. Eliminating ideas will eventually become necessary, but you have to actually have them first. They will, of course, have varying degrees of plausibility. Great solutions often come from variations on initially ridiculous ideas, but you have to allow them to evolve. Later for practicality.

Look at other stuff. Take a look at some examples of how this has been done before. There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of things in a lot of ways. Seeing all the different approaches can be enough to stir up some opinions and inspiration. It can also help ease the pressure of trying to find the “perfect solution.”

Ask a non-designer. It is always interesting to hear the perspective of someone who is not in the design field because their brains are not saturated with common industry knowledge. They say things like, “I don’t know why I like it, I just do.” Sometimes their perspectives are completely unhelpful, but sometimes they will say things you never considered before.

Ask a designer. It is also interesting to hear ideas from someone who is in the field. Design is a subjective profession. Often, just one other person can bring a whole handful of fresh perspectives to the table. The topic of this post is a perfect example.

Exaggerate possibilities. Take certain elements of a design (or part of a design) and shuffle them around. Rotate sections, reverse colors, make the text so big it takes up half of its container. These exaggerations may be unusable and over-the-top, but they can sometimes stir up the mental stagnation with new directions you would not have seen before.

Open a new canvas and mess around. Many times, when I am feeling less than thrilled about the direction my design is headed, the need to do something about it compulsively takes over. Before I know it, I have opened a new canvas and am halfway through a new concept. This is almost always helpful. My rut doesn’t restrict me. Anything that comes from this new work can be added, used in place of, or discarded completely. Repeat as necessary.

Just start. Often the feeling of being stuck in the beginning comes from the intimidation of having a big bunch of nothing in front of you, so just take the first step. Once you have a few concepts you will gain traction, just get over that hump in the beginning. The workflow will make itself clear. This is true for almost any daunting task, from cleaning the closet to going to the gym.

Just stop. Go exist in society and remember what’s important in life. The stickiness of the stuck is much worse if we insist on getting out of it right away. Sometimes you need to see the significance of the situation compared to life, in general, to get it back to a more manageable place. (Note: This one only works mid-process. If you haven’t begun yet but are trying to “just stop,” that doesn’t count and you are still stuck. See the previous step.)

Be productive in other things. Sometimes workflow comes from being on a roll, that awesome feeling of getting stuff done. Go cross some mindless items off your to-do list. If nothing else is on your to-do list but this project, clean something. Organize your desk, vacuum, clear out a drawer. Sometimes, the stuck feeling is just your mind being whiny and complain-y, and you don’t really have time for that.

Feeling stuck is normal and common, and I hope these tips can help you! I would love to hear any tips you find useful to take action and break out of project-related ruts.

Laura Spenke

Laura Spenke

Laura Spenke, Web Designer and Front-End Developer at Art+Logic, loves anything design or front-end code related. She also enjoys illustration and 2D animation. In her free time she teaches several styles of partner dance and likes to stay active, involved, and curious. Laura lives in Austin, Texas.

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