Writers deal with writer’s block and designer’s often find that they get stuck for ideas too. There’s no shame in it but learning to smash through the block is a necessary professional skill. Time waits for no-one and when there’s a deadline looming… you’ve got to pull something out of the bag.
There are better techniques for getting creative than staring at walls, kicking cats and bellowing in frustration, thankfully. We’ve all tried going mad but it never seems to have any real effect. So with that in mind, why not try some of these simple ideas instead:
Quantity Leads to Quality
Less isn’t more when it comes to ideas. Brainstorming works because it allows us to be silly. Having a ton of ideas lets you wade through the dross at the end and pick the winners. It’s a very rare moment in life when the first idea that springs to mind is the best idea. So instead of seeking that “perfect thought”, just blurt out whatever comes to mind. Write it all down. Spend 30 minutes to an hour just chucking out ideas. Then whittle them down to something manageable and useful later on.
Buddha said; “Look for happiness within not without.” In this process, you’re going to do the opposite. What are the things that frustrate you? What are the pain points in your own life? You can bet that some of those issues are issues for other people too. Instead of chasing rainbows and that next awesome tech moment… find the day-to-day problems and solve them. The great thing about these problems is that we actually want to solve them. You don’t even have to leave your desk to get in touch with yourself.
Author/Copyright holder: Martijn Snels. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC 2.0
Scribble Ideas When They Arrive
I’ve lost count of the great ideas which occurred to me whilst waiting in line to pay for something. I used to lose these ideas because I never wrote them down. When I got back to the office (or more lately home), I had nothing but a distant memory of an idea. Write down all your ideas, or use something like Evernote, as you have them. Keep them and review them down the line. Feel free to junk anything that seems really stupid in hindsight or which you’re never going to have time to act on but don’t forget to put some of them into action.
Looked inside and found only a wall of static? Then look outside and not very far outside. What’s going on around you? What are people doing? Why are they doing it? Sometimes you don’t need to find problems – you just need to coax your brain into questioning mode. There can be quite a bit of fun in trying to describe the office as it is (writers) or sketching the faces of the people around you (designers) too.
Stop Being a Creature of Habit
Take a day off. Get up later. Have toast rather than cereal for breakfast. Walk rather than cycle to work. A little change in routine can do you a huge amount of good. The change lets us see the world in a slightly different way. That in itself can trigger ideas. If you start asking; “what’s different about this experience because of the change?” You’ll find that your creative juices start flowing in no time.
Have a Go, Don’t Give Up
UX designers know that life is an iterative process. We do something, then we make changes, we see if it works, if it doesn’t we go back to the drawing board. Part of being a successful creative is simply giving yourself permission to fail, to make mistakes and to learn from them. Take an idea, any idea, and play with it – see if you can bring it to life. If you can’t, work out why… that process itself will generate better ideas in turn. And so on ad infinitum.
Experience Something New
This is more than breaking routine. This is about choosing to do something you have never done before. Travel broadens the mind, as is often said, but so does visiting a museum or gallery, or pulling out a kid’s chemistry set and seeing what weird and wonderful things you can do. New experiences change us in subtle ways and they unleash our thought process to explore new things. It would be hard to be uninspired if we were stood in front of Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, or The Pyramids wouldn’t it?
Author/Copyright holder: Bryan Brenneman. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0
Distractions can also help break the block. When you truly can’t think of anything – stop trying to. Get out of your chair and go for a long walk. If you’re at home; jump in the bath. You’re not a machine and sometimes you just can’t produce on demand. So don’t try. You’d be amazed at how many “Eureka!” moments occur during relaxation (including the original Eureka moment)!
Try Linking Creative Processes
Expertise in an area does not mean that you know everything and that others cannot have useful ideas. Why not rope in some colleagues or friends and get them to try and create ideas with you? Just as with brainstorming exercises – the idea is not to pour scorn on every idea that doesn’t work but to get help with ideation in the first place. You can chuck out useless ideas later. You never know when a bad idea will spark a good one elsewhere.
Smother Bad Ideas
Sometimes a creative rut comes from pursuing a bad idea endlessly and finding yourself trapped with nowhere to go. Step back and ask; “is this the right thing to be spending my time on?” And if you find the answer isn’t a firm; “Hell yes!” then it might be time to chuck out that idea and go back to ideation for a bit (or try another idea from a previous round that you haven’t already).
The block is something all creatives face at some time or another. That’s OK, it’s because we’re all human. The trick is to try and dodge that block as quickly as we can. The ideas above should help you get started. Have you got any ideas that you think might help with this too? Let us know on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.