Limited Exposure Creates Limited Design

I am going to explore, in this post, some of the reasons why designers can hit creative stalemates and what can be done to get past their limited design.

Have you ever been looking through design annuals or other publications, keeping up to date on what’s happening in the industry, when you happen upon a bunch of work that’s leaps and bounds more creative and technically proficient than anything you’ve done so far? I don’t mean a little bit better – I’m talking about work in a completely different stratosphere of good.

I know I have. More times than I’d care to admit just now. But let’s stop to consider for a minute why this happens. You’re a creative person. You create for a living – so why is it that your work seems to hit a creative ‘glass ceiling’ every so often, and your peers seem like they’re outpacing you by light years?

You Keep Looking At The Same Stuff

This happens in every creative discipline, from design to fine art to writing to music. Creative people tend to look at a lot of creative work they like, and the tend to avoid work they dislike or don’t understand very well. While this is normal, it has the unfortunate side effect of making your work very boring and generic. Just like a command you input into a computer, what comes in is what goes out. So if you only consume a certain type of work, that’s all you’re going to have as the basis for your creativity.

Drawing Global Concept - Must-Do's When Ending A Freelance Design Project
Image Source: Drawing Global Concept via Shutterstock.

Broaden your design horizons. Read new things and look at new genres of art and design that you wouldn’t ordinarily care to. You never know where you’re going to find inspiration. Even something as bizarre as natural phenomena or Sky Mall catalogues can spark a creative thunderstorm in your brain.

Bad Design Makes You Sad

It’s true: looking at bad design work is depressing. And when you’re sad, you’re less likely to produce good work. A few years ago, I went through a period of wondering whether I even wanted to be a designer anymore, since my work and all the work I was looking at seemed to be stuck in mediocrity. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a treasure trove of amazing work being put out by my peers that my enthusiasm for design returned and I dove head first into a new creative project.

Digital television noise - Must-Do's When Ending A Freelance Design Project
Image Source: Digital Television Noise via Shutterstock.

We humans, being social animals, tend to mimic whatever we see our fellow humans doing. If the people around you are doing boring, poorly made, uninspiring work, you’re not only going to start to adopt the mentality that design is boring, you’re also going to start mimicking that kind of work. Don’t get caught in that trap. Seek out great work and be inspired by it.

You Have Bad Taste

Ira Glass famously remarked that “your taste is why your work disappoints you.” I would argue that it’s worse if your work doesn’t disappoint you, since that would mean your taste isn’t good enough to know when your work is bad. This is another reason why it’s so important to break out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to look at new and different work.

Girl sticking out tongue - Must-Do's When Ending A Freelance Design Project
Image Source: Girl Sticking Out Tongue via Shutterstock.

This applies even if what you find next is worse than whatever you’ve been looking at. That can actually be a good thing, because at least now you know that there’s something worse out there. Just by finding crappier work, your taste and ability to separate good from bad have improved.

The Secret To Really Original Designs

Okay. Now that we’ve gone over some of the reasons why people run into inspiration brick walls, I’m just going to come out and tell you how to create more original designs. Ready? The secret to originality is to do things that are completely unrelated to design. When you travel, read a book, paint, cook, play an instrument, learn a language, write a short story, or play a sport, you’re doing more than enriching your overall quality of life. You’re actually giving your brain a much-needed rest from thinking about your creative problems.

Many people think that they can simply “force their way” through a challenging design problem, but this is mostly untrue. All you’ll end up doing is wearing yourself out, and your so-called “creative block” will be no closer to being resolved. Many times, a simple break from the workstation will fire up those creative neurons and give you a flood of new ideas.

When you’re busy doing something else, it doesn’t mean that your brain has stopped thinking about your creative challenge. On the contrary, it’s still chewing it over – only now you’re busying yourself with something else and leaving it alone to really think. By the time you come back to it, just like a download running in the background of your computer, your brain will have worked its way through the tangle and come up with a new solution.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever struggled with creative block or lack of variety in your creative inspirations? Let us know how you deal with it in the comments below.

Author: (68 Posts)

Addison Duvall is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, art, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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