Keeping Your Designs Fresh: Techniques for When You’re Feeling Stale

Being a graphic designer (as well as a videographer), I find myself working on a bunch of different projects at any given time. There have already been weeks, in fact, where I’ve started not two, not three, but four different design pieces for clients. At about the moment where I have no time on my hands to slow down, the worst thing that can happen to an artist usually does: I realize that all my designs are starting to resemble each other and end up having a micro-breakdown that only serves to make my workload feel heavier. I’m sure you’ve found yourself in a similar position if you’ve been working in the field for a while. So what can you do to revitalize your creativity and get back to work with a rarely seen burst of vigor? Well, here are a few ideas, based directly off what I do when this paralyzing moment hits.

Don’t just check the usual inspiration sources!

Though it might seem obvious to check the main stories on or Abduzeedo, I sometimes find the work more stifling than inspirational. Think about it: You’re looking at work that may have taken 120 hours to create, but you can’t even seem to come up with a concept on how to begin your project. That can be tough! Instead, I like to check places that show more simplified work to start getting ideas of how I want to take something on. Here are a few of them:

Tumblr (and blog sites in general)– I check Tumblr every once in a while because the various contributors to the site are divided up into broad categories. By tunneling through the directory, I end up seeing some very avant garde work that can sometimes give me the jump start I need to begin my creative process.

Tutorials – As strange as it may seem, browsing tutorial sites is an easy way to be presented with many design options at once. I also find that by seeing an image of the process of creating something can spawn ideas you can draw from. For instance, I’ve already come across a “Step 7” in a 24-step tutorial, and because I liked the way a graphic was laid out with the marching ants selection around it, I ended up mimicking that look for a design. It’s something I saw every day, but the beauty of it only struck me upon seeing it arbitrarily within a tutorial!

Book Stores – Going to the magazine section of any bookstore will give you a treasure trove of design ideas. I personally don’t look to the digital art magazines to do this, however. Fashion, music, and general art magazines have such bold and unique layouts, that I ultimately take a lot more away from them when starting a project from scratch. And have you ever taken the time to look at all the unique and interesting covers, spines, and backs of the books in the Literature section?!? Re-releases of classics will usually get very slick, modern interpretations for their covers, which is a great resource for the inspiration-starved artist! While you’re at the book store, make sure to check out the card section. Again, the bold layouts of something as simple as a graduation card can create a spark you might not expect!

The world around you – Maybe this one is purely for the photography enthusiasts out there, but I can’t tell you how many of my layouts for print and web are taken from real life. Finding something like a particularly pleasing group of telephone wire lazily swaying in pattern and capturing them to film gives you seemingly mundane but all-at-once beautiful layout to draw from. Poster design for me usually begins with shooting around the area I live in order to dissect the most eye-catching examples of natural designs formed by flora and architecture or something similar. Once I’ve done that, it becomes a challenge for me to work within a similar layout, but I find myself no longer stuck on where I should head with it. Call me crazy, but it works.

Other techniques I use

Sometimes, however, it’s not just about seeing something that gets you thinking. It’s about changing your perception altogether. Here are some complimentary techniques I use on top of seeking out inspiration.

Change your environment – I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but a clean office or workspace makes for a clean mind. I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve gotten on one of my brainstorming/cleaning up the clutter sessions. If you’re really in a rut, consider changing around the layout of your office to better suit your needs. This breaking of the mental cycle can go a long way, and you’ll have plenty of time to naturally think about your projects while reorganizing your surroundings.

Change your playlist – I’ll be elaborating more on this in a post next month, but music can put you in a completely different place. Maybe you have a playlist or genre of music you listen to while working. When you find yourself in a rut, change it! Again, it seems hokey and basic, but it’s been proven to paint your creativity in a completely different light!

The inspiring conclusion!

Take the opportunity of feeling stale and being frustrated with your current “lack of creativity” and know that it doesn’t simply go away. It may just be getting misplaced in there, and it’s up to you to change the world around you and look at some sources of inspiration you may not have considered to make the best of it. Who knows? You may end up turning your dry spell into a period of your best work.

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