Learnings of Overcoming Creative Blocks as a Designer

Learnings of overcoming creative blocks as a designer

Have you ever had a creative block? It’s the worst feeling ever. You have to start a new project and you’re stuck drawing blanks. For designers, this ordeal is also known as blank canvas syndrome. It leads to anxiety and stress which makes the problem even worse. You feel you’re not good enough, that everyone else will judge you and you can’t think of a way to get out of it.

But why do creative blocks happen?

There are several reasons for a creative block. Some of them are:

  • Fear of rejection: You’re afraid that your ideas are not good enough.
  • Overworking: You’ve been working long hours lately and you’re exhausted.
  • Personal problems: Your personal problems affect your professional life. When you have a big personal problem, you may not be able to think of anything else.
  • Anxiety: You have a very tight deadline. Or you’re under stress because this is a very important project for you or your company.

So, how can we solve them?

There are many different ways to overcome a creative block, which in my opinion, is ultimately a very personal process. Something that works perfectly for me might not be that good for you and vice versa. But based on my own experiences, here are some of the ways I’ve gotten out of creative slumps over the years.

I started having creative blocks when I was studying. But in my early years as a designer, my approach to getting over them was not very efficient. I gave it too much importance, thinking about the project all the time, worrying about the outcome, etc. I tried different things here and there like looking for inspiration on Dribble, Pinterest, etc.

But this didn’t help me much in overcoming creative blocks. In fact, it made the problem worse as I got more stressed and anxious, which in turn fueled my mental block. The solution lies in doing the opposite: you need to relax.

As time went by, I matured professionally and I started to approach the problem a  bit differently. I started to accept it, understand that it’s normal, that it happens sometimes and it will happen again for sure. After some trial and error, I found the following process works best for me in these situations:

  • Going for a run outdoors: Outdoor activity helps me a lot. The fresh air, the endorphins, etc. Everything contributes to boosting my creativity.
  • Changing the music genre: Usually, I listen to trance music. So when I’m stuck, I try pop music or my favorite artists from the 90s. Sometimes listening to my favorite sessions does the trick. These include sessions by Martin Garrix and Armin van Buuren.
  • Eating chocolate: Whenever I’m sad or stressed I need to eat chocolate — sometimes it helps.
  • Writing the briefing and constraints by hand: For example, I will write the goal of the project, the target audience, etc. This helps me a lot because in most cases, I end up sketching different solutions.
  • Rephrasing the problem and goals of the project: Sometimes the problem is not very well defined, or the goals are not clear enough.
  • Changing my scenario: Whenever I’m stuck I go work somewhere completely different. When I was a freelancer, I went to libraries or cafeterias. I love to work surrounded by people who are also working or studying. Now that I’m working full-time in-house this is a bit more difficult.

After 3.5 years working in the industry, I still have creative blocks sometimes. When I thought that this was a junior-designer-problem at the beginning of my career I was wrong.

Now, I have other designers as colleagues and whenever I’m stuck with something we discuss it together and it helps. Sometimes just 5 minutes helps me come up with another solution!

The most important thing of all is that I don’t get stressed when this happens. I accept it, relax, and I try to find a solution. Switching to another project or another task that is not creative at all also helps me a lot.

But, are creative blocks a designer’s problem?

Not at all, all creatives and producers have creative blocks. Musicians, writers, chefs, developers, PM…

I’m experiencing this myself with my side-projects. One of them is writing. Sometimes it’s difficult to start writing about a specific topic. I can’t come up with anything interesting, even when I’m writing about my experiences as a designer.

Since writing is my side project and I don’t earn money with it, I don’t give it too much importance. I can’t come up with anything good today? Fine, I’ll come back tomorrow or in 2 days. I also read other blogs of course, which helps.

I also have creative blocks when I’m cooking. Every Sunday I make a weekly plan for lunch and dinner. Sometimes, I can’t come up with anything for Thursday, or for Tuesday or even for 2 days of the week! This is because of the constraints I set for myself, like eating healthy and varied meals.

What do I do on these occasions? I browse the internet looking for recipes. In general, I look for something specific like a recipe with fish, or with vegetables, etc. And, in the end, I complete the weekly plan. Or worst case scenario, I end up repeating the same recipe twice in a week, which is not the end of the world.

You’re not alone. Everyone has creative blocks, as designers, writers, musicians, and as human beings. My best advice is that  it’s better to accept it as something that comes with our profession and try different techniques to overcome it.

I strongly recommend you doing something active outside; changing your environment or routine and rephrasing the problem and discussing it with other designers or colleagues. At least that’s what works best for me.

What about you? Do you have any special trick to overcome creative blocks?


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Sabrina Couto Avatar

Sabrina Couto / UX Designer @ Coolblue

I’m Sabrina Couto, a UX designer based in Amsterdam working at Coolblue, large e-commerce in Benelux. I’m also a co-organiser in Ladies that UX Amsterdam. I love solving complex problems, enjoying the time outdoors, going to a music festival and reading.