A Designer's Tips on Overcoming Creative Block

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

Sometimes, being creative just feels impossible. Whether it's getting started on a large project, or simply fighting your mid-afternoon fatigue, creative block is a common issue for many people in many professions. A lot of times, it occurs right when we need our creative juices flowing.

As a Designer, I have had to deal with creative block more times than I can count. My most recent experience happened in the middle of a tight deadline; we had to come up with a design narrative for an office space. We had settled on a rigid design but then the clients said they wanted a more dynamic/flexible design. Sitting in front of my tablet, with the literal clock clicking, I realized I couldn’t come up with any idea.

As a creative in any field, you can relate to that scenario and a lot of times it can be frustrating. But the key to overcoming it is quite easy.

First you need to realize

Creative block can take different faces. It could be staring blankly with no idea in your head or there are a lot of ideas.. But they are bad ones. For me, I can tell when I have creative block when the ideas I come up with impress neither me nor my client.

Once you have the realization, that’s the beginning of overcoming creative block.

Step away from the design

If those ideas aren’t coming, what you need is to step away from the task and refresh. Staring hard at your computer screen is not going to make the ideas come any faster. If anything, it will frustrate you further and a frustrated mind cannot come up with great ideas.

I find that giving my mind time to breathe is all I need. I usually engage in one of the following activities:

Listen to music

This is my personal go-to and it has never failed me. You will often find me at my workstation with my earbuds in. Sing along to your favorite music to take your mind away from the task. According to this study, listening to happy music (such as classical music) can cause an increase in divergent thinking - a process used to generate creative ideas. Definitely worth a try.

Find inspiration

One lesson I learned from Spacefinish Creative Director, Remi is to save inspiration when I find it whether it’s related to what I’m working on at the moment or not. Later when I’m feeling uninspired, I go back to the ideas I stored and they end up inspiring me in one way or another.

Take a quick nap

When I can, I try to take 15 minute power naps just to refresh my mind so I can go back to critically analyzing the task at hand. That way, I’m a better judge of what I can do better.

Get down to it

Your creative block might stem from fear - are you holding back because you’re scared of failing or because you have so much work its overwhelming? Starting the work regardless of fear is the best way to get over this block. According to Graphic Designer, Paul Scher, “it’s only through mistakes that we can grow”. You’re not going to become the best in your field by playing it safe. Start the work, get going!

These are the activities that work for me and I always go back to work with a refreshed mind and renewed vigor. Some of the activities might require you to go back to the drawing board and take a different design approach. It might set you back a little time-wise but your designs will be better for it.