Every designer stumbles across creative blocks every now and then, no matter how good they are. What differentiates an experienced designer from a newbie is that a pro has tried and tested strategies for getting their creative ideas flowing again.
As a professional designer, your ability to bring creativity into your design work is your bread and butter. But as you may have discovered for yourself, creativity isn’t something you can turn on and off like a tap whenever you need it.
This is unfortunate for designers, as the demand for graphic design work is relentless. Whether you’re an in-house designer or a freelancer, your work often requires generating a constant stream of fresh ideas — and it can be overwhelming.
The pressure to create a never-ending stream of stunning, unique designs for multiple design projects can leave you feeling stressed out and lead to even more creative blocks.
The most successful designers have a few tricks up their sleeves for when a creative block comes calling — and you can, too. This article will outline seven ways to get over a creative dry spell and reveal our five favorite go-to sources of creative design inspiration.
Creativity waxes and wanes — but you can polish it
Pablo Picasso said, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” — and it’s safe to say the infamous modernist painter knew a thing or two about creativity.
The idea that creative inspiration strikes like a lightning bolt when needed is a myth — most of the time. It can and does happen, but it’s not a reliable strategy when you have client deadlines piling up, and your brain is drawing a blank.
Creativity ebbs and flows. You’ve probably noticed there are days when your creative inspiration runs drier than the Sahara Desert and others when ideas fall from the sky like tropical rain. This is the nature of creativity, and an important step in becoming a successful designer is accepting this fact.
So you can’t force creativity. But you also can’t rely on inspiration to strike when it suits you. So what do you do?
You find ways to make your design process conducive to creativity — and make them a habit. The following section will outline seven tricks pro designers use to keep the creative ideas flowing.
7 ways to get out of a creative rut
Ready to become a design idea machine? Use these seven proven strategies to recharge your creative batteries.
1. Schedule creative time
Creativity is like a muscle — the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. You wouldn’t only hit the gym when you feel a surge of energy, so don’t wait to feel inspired before starting your creative work. Instead, set aside time each week to focus on ideation and generating fresh ideas.
And remember — there’s no such a thing as a “new idea.” Everything has already been done before. As designers, putting pressure on ourselves to create something completely new can actually cause a creative block. So let yourself off the hook — without the pressure to do something that’s never been done, you’ll unleash your creative mind.
2. Optimize your space
Your surroundings affect your creativity — and that applies to both your physical and digital space. Studies show that clutter is linked to stress and procrastination — two of the biggest enemies of creativity.
Clutter causes a low-level fight or flight response that effectively “switches off” the creative part of your brain. If you’re a serial hoarder or clutter collector, consider putting the tchotchkes away and see how it affects your creative process.
On the flip side, overly-minimalist surroundings can fail to provide the inspiration you may get from seeing colors and shapes around you. So make sure your space is orderly and clutter-free but also provides visual input.
Optimizing your digital space is just as important as organizing your physical space. If your digital files are a disaster, you’ll waste time searching for assets when you could be creating. Consider using a digital asset management system — like Playbook — to organize your digital space and always be ready when inspiration strikes.
Finally, you need to make sure you’re comfortable. Do you strain your neck or hands while working? Is your screen level with your eyes? Do you need an ergonomic desk or chair? Adjusting your working conditions can free up creative space in your brain.
On the other hand, you don’t want to get so comfortable you fall asleep mid-brainstorm. Striking a balance between comfort and practicality is key.
3. Get physical (with your supplies!)
Remember how much fun you used to have playing with art supplies as a kid? A blank canvas represented an infinite number of possibilities, and you were never worried about running out of ideas.
Working on a computer day in, day out can disconnect you from the physical practice of creativity and design. And it turns out the way your brain works changes depending on whether you’re drawing on a screen or a piece of paper.
Some of the best designs start off as terrible drawings — and that’s okay! Research shows that sketching by hand actually makes you better at restructuring your ideas and coming up with novel changes.
Another study found that designers who used paper changed their goals and intentions more often and engaged in more cognitive actions — in other words, they had more ideas than those who used only digital design tools.
4. Try using words
If you’re not sure how to tackle a particular design project, try jotting down a few “essence words.” These are words that capture the spirit of the message or brand personality you’re trying to convey.
Allow your mind to make word associations, even if they don’t make logical sense. Something about thinking in this nonlinear way can spark ideas that lead to breakthroughs.
Even if nothing jumps out immediately, let it simmer in your mind for a couple of days — you may be hit with inspiration when you least expect it.
5. Give your brain a break
Have you ever noticed you sometimes have your best ideas when you’re doing something mundane — like washing the dishes or taking a shower?
That’s because a rested mind is a creative mind. When your mind is at rest, your subconscious is hard at work looking for creative solutions to your unresolved problems.
Giving your brain a break gives it space to explore different ideas and test creative solutions. Sometimes getting up from your desk and taking a walk around the block is all it takes to get the creative juices flowing again.
6. Get enough sleep
It’s a well-known fact that creatives run mostly on coffee. But you’ve probably noticed that a good night’s sleep does a lot more for your creativity than too many cups of joe.
REM sleep, in particular, seems to boost creativity. If you struggle to get enough high-quality sleep, avoid screens for at least two hours before bed, aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night — and maybe start going easy on the coffee.
7. Always be prepared
The thing about creative inspiration is that you never know when it might materialize. It could happen in line at the grocery store, during your morning workout, or while you’re on the phone with your mom.
We like to think these ideas are so brilliant we couldn’t possibly forget them, but the reality is that unless we jot them down, they normally evaporate, never to be seen again.
Carry your sketchbook with you at all times to capture those fragments of genius as they pass through your brain. You never know what they could turn into.
Our 5 favorite sources of design inspiration
If you’re still feeling stuck and looking for inspiration, these five design blogs and websites will help you get back in touch with your creative side.
1. Best Website Gallery
This one’s for the web and UX designers. This digital design gallery by David Hellmann is a carefully curated collection of websites and design platforms.
New websites are constantly being added to Best Website Gallery, and users vote for their favorites. The site uses a metadata system, so you can search for designs using tags.
Adobe-owned Behance is a social network for web designers to showcase and discover creative design projects. Its “Discover” page makes it easy to find designs by searching for keywords, project type, geographic location, and more — like Spotify for designers.
Awwwards is a web design competition website that recognizes and promotes innovative web design. Each day, it features a website of the day, voted for by a dedicated jury.
Awwwards judges evaluate websites based not only on design but also on other factors, including usability, content quality, and creativity — making it a go-to resource for web designers.
Mobbin is a UX/UI research website specifically for mobile apps. It has an expert-curated library containing screenshots of over 50,000 mobile apps that users can search for using tags. This allows you to easily and quickly access the best design ideas and solutions.
5. Web Design Museum
Want to discover the forgotten design trends of yesteryear? Head over to the Web Design Museum, a site that showcases over 1,200 iconic website designs from between 1994 and 2006.
At the very least, this blast from the past will give you a good laugh — and hopefully some creative inspiration, too.
Crank up your creativity with Playbook
You can’t control creativity — but you can create the conditions that make generating creative ideas easier.
Scheduling time for creativity, taking breaks, managing your environment, and taking care of your physical wellbeing are all great ways to cultivate creativity.
Having a well-organized digital workspace is also a must for any professional designer. That’s why we created Playbook — the digital asset management platform by designers for designers.
With Playbook, you can visually organize your digital files in a way that’s searchable, shareable, and intuitive to use. Create your first Playbook and enjoy 4TB of lifetime storage space.