How to Get Unstuck in Your Design Process
We’ve all been there — hopelessly staring at the screen and waiting for design inspiration...
We’ve all been there — hopelessly staring at the screen and waiting for design inspiration to swoop in and save the day. When that doesn’t happen, use these tactics to help you get out of those design ruts:
Sketch it out
There are certainly many scenarios when we have to move quickly to crank out a design. But when it’s possible, go from idea-to-paper versus idea-to-computer. There’s a huge value in getting your thoughts out on paper: you can iterate quickly without worrying about the details, you can express your thoughts without the pressure of using software to translate, and you have an unlimited amount of “undo’s”. Sketching and brainstorming on paper allow for a more fluid and organic form of thinking that can’t always be achieved through digital means.
Break it down
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when the task at hand seems insurmountable. A full website redesign, a 100+ page magazine or a ground-breaking pitch deck can be daunting projects. But it’s all possible when you break work down into smaller, digestible pieces. In project management, it’s called decomposition–breaking large chunks into work packages, and then breaking those work packages into smaller components. Once you break down the work into manageable tasks, you can then focus on making progress through smaller actions that lead to a bigger whole.
We all like to take credit for those magical moments when we read our clients’ minds and exceed their expectations — with little information to work with. This could be the norm if we were actually professional magicians, but because we aren’t, it’s usually not. When you hit a roadblock or aren’t sure what direction you should be going in, drop the ego and just ask. Getting insight from the client, a teammate or another knowledgeable stakeholder in the process can save a lot of guesswork and time overcoming unnecessary obstacles that you may have created for yourself. In fact, asking thoughtful questions upfront and throughout the design process actually shows that you care, that you’re engaged, and that you possess the critical thinking needed to deliver the best outcomes.
Get past version one
Have you ever labored over a design for so long that you don’t even know if it’s good anymore? You tweak a color, move an image 3 pixels to the left, increase the font size by a few points, but nothing seems to look right. Then you flashback to a decent solution you had on the artboard 15 minutes prior and hope to God that you have enough “Undo’s” to get back to that sweet spot. Stop torturing yourself. Create a layout. Then duplicate the artboard and tweak that layout. Duplicate the tweaked artboard and tweak again. Compare layouts. Add and take away elements. Color and create outside the artboard. Get your gears turning by creating without limitation or forcing yourself to stay stuck on one design. Iterate fast and iterate often.
As much as you may hate (or love) your design, there’s nothing like getting feedback from others to get a different perspective. Whether it’s feedback from the client, a colleague or teacher, having that second or third opinion can help you pivot your design direction or stay on track and continue to develop it. Either way, it’s good to welcome constructive criticism when you feel stuck. It can help you open your eyes to insights and ideas that you may not have thought of on your own.
Instead of trying to force it, walk away. Go eat dinner, take a walk, watch your favorite Netflix series, take a nap, read a book. Once you’ve removed yourself for a few minutes or hours (or maybe even a few days), you can come back to your design with fresh eyes and ideas.
It’s easy to get attached to the same design style or layout and feel like your execution is getting a little stale. This is a great time to see what others are doing — not so that you can copy, but so that you can know that there are many other ways to do what you’re trying to do. Aside from the typical Google search, comb through magazines and books, take a look at the surroundings in your neighborhood, listen to some good music or podcasts, visit a museum or talk shop with other designers. You never know what small (or large) observation will spark the idea that you’ve been waiting for.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten past that wall. Now go create something amazing!