The designer's guide to getting a life

You may have the design job of your dreams but work isn't everything, right? Leading designers explain what they do to avoid burnout.

Loving what you do is a wonderful thing. But enjoying a job often makes you want to keep doing it, even outside of work hours, which can quickly lead to burnout.

Quality leisure time is important for the body and mind and a great way to stay creative. We decided to ask a handful of leading designers what they they get up to in their downtime - what helps to keep them motivated and inspired? Here's what they had to say...

Justin Maller

Justin Maller

The advice of New York-based freelance designer and illustrator Justin Maller is simple: Get a dog.

"Being a freelancer is lonely," he admits. "Usually, there's no other people around. This has its pros and cons - people are great for loneliness but usually a pain in the ass for everything else.

"Dogs are like people but furrier and awesomer - they don't talk back, learn tricks, do cute shit constantly and basically unequivocally think you're great. They also force you to get up from your desk and leave the house a few times a day to go on things called 'walks'.

Dogs are like people but furrier and awesomer

"Essentially this entails following them around a (hopefully) circuitous route on which you will most likely encounter more dogs, other people (whom you can 'interact' with - see appendix) and poop (which you will have to pick up, thus humbling you as a person and helping to keep you grounded).

Franklin the Shiba Inu keeps designer Justin Maller grounded

"Depending on your commitment level to your dog and his well being, these walks may last up to half an hour - seeing you get 90 minutes of precious cardiovascular exercise each day and inadvertently do a tiny little bit to stave off your inevitable death from entropy."

Thinking time

Maller has some further (possibly tongue-in-cheek) words of wisdom for his fellow freelancers. "For added excellence try leaving your smartphone at home and allowing yourself to have some actual 'thoughts' that you don't then instantaneously pound into the ether via Twitter or Pinterest or whatever the kids are using these days," he says.

"Seriously, though, dogs are great. Be sure to post heaps of photos of your furry new addition to the family to Instagram because if there's one thing everyone cares about, it's your pet. And if they don't then fuck 'em, AMIRITE?!"

Gavin Strange

Gavin Strange

Senior digital designer at award-winning animation studio Aardman, Gavin Strange looks to his wheels for that all-important downtime...

"It's really important to step away from your desk, away from computer and away from the task in hand," he says. "Design is such an odd thing, it's not a quantifiable 'on/off' thing, it's got all these soft bendy rules, and something that you made previously won't be correct this time round.

"Because of that, it means your parameters are constantly changing, so each project requires new focus and concentration, and that's why it's important to get away from it all, to give your brain a chance to ferment the ideas.

Skateboarding completely takes your mind away from anything else

"I like to do a couple of things that help; skateboarding and riding my bike. What I love about both of these, are they're completely individual pursuits. I don't need anyone else to do them, I don't need any special clothing, I don't have to go to a specific place to do it, I just grab my bike or board and go!

Gavin Strange jumps on his bike or skateboard to take his mind off things

"Skateboarding in particular is so creative in itself, it's complete absorbing trying to learn tricks (or in my case, re-learn tricks), attempting to master a series of events to make a trick possible. It completely takes your mind away from anything else going on in your life, and that's what you need."

Ben O'Brien (Ben the Illustrator)

Ben O'Brien

Freelance artist Ben O'Brien aka Ben the Illustrator finds sport and the outdoors provide the perfect solution to creative block...

"I have a handful of things that I need to do away from my desk that have a positive effect on what I do at my desk," he reveals. "Firstly, it's not the most extreme sport, but... badminton! I play every Monday evening and it really helps to kick off my week, it's energetic, skillful and I find it really helps to focus the mind.

"There's a small group of around six of us, all freelance designers or illustrators living in the same town, so there's a camaraderie, and it also works as a way to get out of the studios and have a bit of a social.

There's a small group of around six of us, all freelance designers

O'Brien is also a fan of long walks. "I've always been a hiker, before I settled down with my family I did adventurous hikes as far afield as Iceland, Yosemite and Japan," he explains.

"Nowadays it's a little less global, but a few hours walking through the forests and fields where we live, with my wife, son and our dog will always be good for the mind, body and soul. My wife Fi and I have had a lot of our best creative ideas while out walking, I think it's the clearer air and natural views.

Ben O'Brien finds long walks with his wife and son, Woody, good for the mind, body and soul

"I'd say I need to do both of those weekly to keep my mind on track, one thing I need a little less often, monthly if possible, is a city visit. We live in a small town in Somerset, it's brimming with creativity and a great community, surrounded by some great countryside, but now and again I need to feel the buzz and enthusiasm of a city, more often than not it'll be Bristol or London, where we can find new things, see what everyone else is doing and just get excited about life and work."

Simon Jobling

Simon Jobling

Being a busy UI engineer at one of the UK's largest online-only fashion and beauty stores ASOS, designer Simon Jobling finds solace in his family and good game of pool...

"When I'm struggling in the office, I tend to hone my pool skills in the break out area with a colleague," he says. "It takes your mind completely off the task but gives you focus in a different way, reinvigorating some much needed enthusiasm.

Designer Simon Jobling takes his mind off the task in hand with a game of pool

It takes your mind completely off the task but gives you focus in a different way

"At home, I try to down tools and spend time with my wife and kids. Their innocence and energy are inspiring (at times) and remind me why I work so hard in the first place."

Daniela Estevez Fernandez

Daniela Estevez Fernandez

As product designer at buzzing digital agency Huge, Daniela Estevez Fernandez turns to crafts and cooking to help her relax...

"After a day of work I'm most likely to be found watching a marathon of the latest American drama, keeping my hands busy with my latest crochet project," she reveals.

"I also crochet on the journey to and from Huge. Toys are my favourite thing to make and I find it's like therapy if I have something on my mind. In fact, at Huge we've started a knit 'n' bitch club for Tuesday lunchtimes. Only a few of us have the skills but we're running classes for anyone who's interested. In fact, our managing director is surprising everyone the most with her pro knitting.

Creating crochet toys is one of product designer Daniela Estevez Fernandez's favourite pasttimes

"If I have designer's block and I'm on a deadline, going home and cooking is the best thing for me to do. The more weird, experimental and difficult the meal, the better.

If I have designer's block and I'm on a deadline, going home and cooking is the best thing

"When all of my attention is focused on the ingredients and the process, I stop thinking about work. When I return to design I feel fresh and inspired!"

Lucy Gibson

Lucy Gibson

Experimenting in the kitchen and heading to the local charity shop helps Studio Output designer Lucy Gibson switch off...

"It’s important for me to wind down in my free time, to get new ideas and experiment with them," she stresses. "Ideas generally come to me when I switch off and I’m on auto-pilot – in the bath, on the tube or in bed. I leave Post-It notes by my bed and in my rucksack, to jot them down when they come to me.

Ideas generally come to me when I switch off

"Try not to get frustrated when you can’t think of a concept straight away. Take a step back and give your head some space. I love cooking at evenings and weekends, and find it the best way to switch off.

Experimenting in the kitchen helps designer Lucy Gibson switch off

"I also walk about visiting charity shops on Sundays. These are full of inspiration, from old typography on book covers, to patterns on cushion covers and teacups."

Henry Hargreaves

Henry Hargreaves

Leading photographer Henry Hargreaves finds the best way to relax is with a new playlist...

"The thing I find key to my downtime to stay mentally creative is to listen to new music," he explains. "I found the autumn of my creative output was a couple of years back when all the music I had on my iPod was stuff I was familiar with and Pandora never opened any new doors. Whenever I listened to my music my mind subconsciously knew the next beat.

Henry Hargreaves find new music is a great way to inspire his creativity

"With the advent of Spotify in the US, I was again able to discover new music without spending a fortune on a recommendation. Since then I have begun regularly making 'new music' playlists.

I find the key to staying mentally creative is to listen to new music

"It's based on music I have read about or been steered towards, that I feel I will enjoy. But what's key to these lists are they are all new music to me. For some reason when my mind can't predict the next beat it helps keep my mind fit and is able to work outside my comfort zone creatively!"

Matt Gypps

Matt Gypps

Ustwo's chief pixel-perfectionist Matt Gypps, aka Gyppsy King of PPP (Pixel Perfect Precision), loves to feel the wind through his lucious locks...

"Mountain biking is my perfect way to unwind, and provides a great balance to sitting in front of a computer for much of the day," he says.

"Solo rides with time to think and reflect; group rides with some friendly competition to get the blood pumping; the thrill of a downhill; beautiful scenery and travel to parts of the world most people ignore; the story behind a new scar; geeking out over which parts to buy next and then time spent in the workshop fitting them; and of course plenty of exercise, which means the luxury of never having to count calories!"

Matt Gypps finds mountain biking the perfect way to unwind

How do you cope with life as a designer? What do you do in your downtime to stay sane? Let us know in the comments?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerrie Hughes is associate editor at Creative Bloq. Her employment at Future Publishing began in January 2010 as staff writer for 3D World magazine. Since then, she's written regularly for other publications, including ImagineFX and Computer Arts magazines.

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