Designer's block

It's a nightmare situation that no-one wants to slip into. But it happens, even to the best of us. Jason Arber has some practical advice for those desperate to break through.

Your eyes flick to the clock at the top of your computer screen. The deadline is now less than an hour away. You stare at a blank canvas in Photoshop, heart pounding, a bead of sweat zig-zagging lazily across your forehead. But you've got nothing. Zip. Nada. Your mind is as blank as that screen and suddenly you have the dull realisation that if you don't come up with something sharpish, you're going to get fired...

Mental block

For us creative folk, this is the ultimate nightmare - a mental block, a ten-foot high wall that stands between you and the best design you've ever created. We've all faced, and overcome, this particular problem at one time or other, but the only time it really counts is when a deadline looms and panic starts to set in.

A full-blown anxiety attack is unlikely, but it's good to know the symptoms: rapid heart beat or palpitations; choking sensations or a lump in throat; nausea; feelings of bloatedness or abdominal discomfort; a sense of derealisation (feeling unreal or dreamy) or depersonalisation (feeling outside yourself) - oh, and urgently needing to urinate or defecate.

Of course, all of these symptoms could be caused by the questionable substances you consumed last night... Nine times out of ten, you won't be having a panic attack; you'll just be thinking desperately about what the hell you can do to find inspiration.

Many sources of advice suggest getting up and going for a walk. Clear your head, the words of wisdom say, and you'll be able to look at your problem with a fresh eye. A good suggestion, no doubt, that's full of noble sentiments, but when you're up against it with just minutes to go, getting up from your computer to take a leisurely stroll seems like the rash act of a design madman. So what else can you do?

Some folk pay a visit to the website of their favourite designer to see if they can find inspiration in the designs of others. Again, this is a great suggestion, provided, of course, that you don't stray over the grey line that separates inspiration from theft. Cheekily swiping someone else's design is not the way forward. For all its size, the web can be a small place and your copyright theft will be discovered sooner or later.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures; I've been known to hit my head repeatedly against the monitor, screaming of the window to make a bid for freedom. Hardly a method conducive to inspiration...

Do something, anything

So here's my advice. My personal favourite is to just start doing something, anything. It's better than your brain spinning itself into a frenzy of desperation after all. Start drawing or doodling on screen or a sheet of paper. On a couple of occasions I have found that this process clears the mental blockage and a solution starts to emerge from the sketches or images you have casually created.

Once that happens, you're on a roll. But now you'll need to start praying for more time, not because your mind is blank but because - all of a sudden - you have too many ideas to get across at once and you're desperate to do justice to them all.

The feeling of having climbed the wall is one of the best a designer or creative can have. It's right up there with winning a pitch or waking up and realising it's Saturday.

So why do people have peaks and troughs of creativity? It's difficult to say, although sinking 20 vodkas on a school night can't help. Even accepting the fact that everyone suffers from it at least once is small comfort when the good designs just aren't fl owing and the clock hands march on relentlessly. That knowledge might just be enough to stave off the full-blown anxiety attack you'd been expecting...