How can you be more creative? Inspiration is often fleeting and especially fragile when faced with outside pressures like cashflow or supporting a family. The creative block is an all too familiar visitor to many designers. However creative people are also expert at coming up with solutions to problems and this one is no different.
These can involve grandiose schemes for putting yourself in the mood for inspiration or just taking a shortcut and typing words into Google. There are also tools such as mindmapping software or Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’. According to user Damien Smith of ISO, this set of playing cards – blank on one side and with a simple abstract direction on the reverse – can be used to trigger unexpected thinking and to see creative problems afresh.
In this feature I’ve explored a few of methods that creative professionals have built up for dealing with a blank page. It doesn’t matter if that page is paper, html, video monitor or a blank canvas in Photoshop, all these helper processes are easily transferable to any discipline. So if you find yourself in the doldrums, try some or just one of them and you’ll soon find your mind is soaring again.
There is a wealth of aids to being more creative to be found on the Internet and in magazines like Digital Arts. Twitter can be a source of inspiration. Dino Burbidge, creative director at Digital Outlook, for example always has the TwitBin Firefox plugin visible in his browser to graze interesting tweets, and also recommends the TED Talks ‘for a quick, mind-realigning hit’. Jan Ligaard of Icon 22 suggests following design tutorials by the creative pros, which not only enhance your skills, but may also lend a different view to how you approach a creative project
A lot of designers begin the day with a spot of mindless activity. Not violence, but scribbling. It’s a technique sometimes known as ‘morning pages’. Basically as soon as you wake up spend some time filling three pages of paper with your thoughts, in a stream of consciousness fashion. It’s been known to clear the mind and spark inspiration. Illustrator Andy Potts meanwhile follows an alternative morning routine of aimless doodling. “I find that these doodles or marks I make without thinking usually end up in my finished pieces or spark a creative direction I hadn’t considered until then,” he says.
Take a step sideways
According to Andy Williams, Senior Digital Strategist at Resn, thinking too much can harm your creativity. “Do something that you would not normally do because it does not make sense,” he says actively encouraging doing something stupid so that mistakes occur. “Mistakes allow events to happen outside of the restrictions imposed by our circumscribed logic,” he adds “It may be a little scary but it only takes one small step in the right direction to find stupidity and augment ones creativity.”
It’s a view shared by Chris Berridge, creative director of Block Interactive, who feels that only when you look at things from the outside, from a perspective set apart from existing perceptions, will you be truly creative.
Identify your endpoint
Having a clear objective in mind is essential for stimulating creative design. Identify your audience and objectives, isolate the message and think how to best communicate it.
“Accurately defining your design ‘problem’ leads to the most creative and innovative results,” says Jim Rawson of Digital Design. “It focuses the brain on problem-solving, something which human beings are incredibly good at.”
Rawson suggests you ask who is the design for and how you want people to react. “When you have the answers to the questions, write them. Inevitably it won’t be long before your mind starts to ‘join up the dots’.”
Don’t sweat it, ignore it
If a piece of work isn’t going well, and the deadline isn’t too pressing, then walk away from it before terminal frustration sets in. Take a break, shut out the world for a bit.
Faced with the prospect of ‘flogging a dead horse of an idea’, illustrator Andy Potts will often try to empty his head of thoughts with such potentially uninspiring activities as riding a bike, watching mindless daytime TV or reading a book unrelated to the creative problem. “Inspiration can pop into your head when you least expect it and particularly when you’re not trying to force it,” he says.
Assemble a store of creative/fun/inspiring objects and artwork/clippings. Jeremy Jones, creative director of Digital Marmalade, touts Flickr as a great place to keep your digital inspiration, while Delete has a dedicated online archive – or just use a physical scrapbook. When the creative block hits, retrieve random items from this collection or pull random words from dictionaries. Then force yourself to make something containing the element or thoughts inspired by the words. You might not create something useful in the first round, but Jan Ligaard of ICON22 says, his team often finds the final signed off deliverables will contain some elements from the results of this forced creativity session.