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So you’re happily working on your design for a new or ongoing project and everything is going according to plan… or is it? All of a sudden you stop right in your tracks, unsure about your next step. Should you go left? Or maybe right? What if you went back a few steps? No, that didn’t work. Now you’re just going in circles!
You feel that a creative block is imminent, but it’s not too late! There are a few things that you can do to get past this bump in your flow and get back on track. Note that these mostly apply to freelancers or those with more flexible jobs in regards to hours and working place.
While your workspace should be comfortable, it shouldn’t provide any distractions which could prevent you from focusing on the task at hand. Working from home is a perfect example of a distracting environment. Personally, I can almost never concentrate there because there are so many other things that I could do instead (laundry, dishes, cleaning, you name it); it’s the fault of that pesky subconscious that insists on relaxing at home.
In this case, you need to take some of the comfort away from your comfort zone. Try working at a desk, sitting on a chair that’s uncomfortable enough to keep you from taking a nap, but comfortable enough that it doesn’t break your spine. If you can, try working in a different place altogether, eliminating all of the distractions from your home. If you’re a student with 24/7 access to your university and you don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to get there, it might be worth a shot. Continuity is key in keeping your workflow intact, so interruptions are your worst enemies.
Now that we’ve fixed your working space, let’s have a look at generating ideas.
Paper. Yes, I just said paper. It’s that thin white thing made from trees, and, believe it or not, people still use it! Jokes aside, it’s very stimulating to write or draw your ideas with a pen or pencil, compared to using your keyboard. This is because of the processes that occur inside the brain; writing by hand involves more complex motions than typing, thus requires your mind to do more work.
When we type, it’s just a matter of recognizing the correct letter or symbol, and pressing the corresponding key. Handwriting requires you to actively draw the shapes and letters, naturally triggering more reactions. Regardless of their sources, stimuli can lead to many creative sparks.
So don’t be afraid, choose your instrument and go all out! Doodle on the edges of the paper! Sketch nonsense! Anything goes since you can never know what can come out. Just don’t stray too far. Perhaps now you need someone to keep you in check?
Sometimes a sparring partner can be a lifesaver and can take your rough ideas in directions you would’ve never thought of. Find someone who’s willing to brainstorm with you, give them the basic rundown, sit down and start throwing ideas around. It should be someone whose skills complement yours, who has a different take on things and isn’t too shy about their point of view.
You may be thinking “How will that help? Won’t we end up arguing?” and it’s a legitimate question. Ideally, the two of you should listen to each others opinions and try to compromise in order to advance. You will try to find loopholes in your friend’s argument so that you can fit your own idea in, and sometimes you might have to alter it so that it can go through. Remember to explore, rather than just shoot down ideas for the simple reason that you don’t like them. Why don’t you like the idea? What would it take for you to like it? How can you modify it?
I once brainstormed with a friend for over six hours and we mercilessly shot down poor ideas, developed the good ones and even explored the absurd. Neither of us ever said “I just don’t like it.”. The day was extremely productive, we had fun, we laughed and we celebrated with a well-deserved drink.
Feedback can produce a variety of feelings, from anger to relief to joy. We all dread negative criticism, especially when it comes from someone whose opinion we value and trust, and we feel downright insulted when it comes from random people. “Humph! What do they know?” you say, with your nose in the air. The most important thing is to not take it personally and try to understand what made them give you the feedback in the first place.
Your face might be all red and there might be smoke coming out of your ears, but you need to let things settle down and look at them again, with a clear head this time. Eliminate things that boil down to personal taste and points that are poorly argued; there isn’t much that you can do about them. Everything else qualifies as legitimate and should be looked into.
It’s time to open up new doors and directions, and a great way to do this is to learn something new, a new skill or even a new tool. Go to your favourite tutorial website and learn a new technique that might prove useful for your project; or maybe just something that you think is cool. Don’t blindly follow the tutorial, but adapt and modify wherever you can; see what else you can do with your new found ability and don’t limit yourself.
What about a book? Or an article? You’re reading one right now and hopefully you’ve found something that you didn’t know. As they say, “the more you know, the less you know”, and curiosity will eventually lead to improvement.
When I concluded that Photoshop couldn’t satisfy my craving for vector graphics, I set out to find a new tool that could. I got used to Inkscape (no, Illustrator doesn’t really suit me) and I’ve been happily using it ever since. The same thing happened to another friend after she discovered MyPaint; all she wanted was a light and simple program that didn’t need much configuration.
And that’s it. Hopefully now you can avoid getting stumped and losing your spark. If you’ve already tried these things or, better yet, have some other neat solutions, let’s hear them! Share with your fellow designers so we may never lose our creative flow!
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Costin is a passionate multimedia designer focused on graphics, video and web. Coming from the often stressful Bucharest and currently living in Denmark, right now he is probably lost in thought, pondering absurd but creative ideas.