20 ways to overcome creative block

Struggling for ideas? It happens to the best of us - so here are 20 tips to keep those inspirational juices flowing.

Follow these 20 tips on beating creative block from leading designers and you'll soon see those inspirational juices flowing again.

01. Tap into your unconscious

"Strange things happen in a semi-sleep state, when your unconscious takes over," says Shotopop's Casper Franken. "Wake up and write down whatever was happening before you forget it."

02. Get it down on paper

Write your main ideas down in columns, and list absolutely everything that comes to mind. You can mix and match the lists for unusual and original combinations.

03. Always carry a sketchbook

Don't go looking for inspiration: "A visually loaded word or phrase can jump out from a passage of text, or a song," proposes London based designer and illustrator Craig Ward. "Be sure to sketch those ideas down when they come."

04. Don't be afraid to step away

Completely open briefs can be the worst for causing creative block. Try to distance yourself from the project; take a break and come back to it with a clear head.

05. Finish what you've started

Digital design studio ustwo works with brands including Sony, H&M, and the BBC

"There's no such thing as a bad idea: the creative part is in seeing it though to completion, and turning dreams into reality," argues Mr Mills, creative director at ustwo.

06. Put some fun in your studio

"Sterility leads to an empty void of nothingness," adds Mills. Always try to inject some colour and life into your studio, and don't run it like a clinic or a prison.

07. Don't retread your steps

One of illustrator Alex Trochut's imaginative designs for Puma

"Inspiration is intangible: you can't do it on purpose," believes illustrator Alex Trochut. "If you just try to reproduce how a good project happened in the past, you'll never get the same result."

08. Look in unlikely places

Go and do something else entirely. You'd be amazed at where new ideas are hiding out. They're often where you would least expect them to be.

09. Expect the unexpected

Kjell Ekhorn (Norwegian) and Jon Forss (British) have worked together as the creative direction & design team Non-Format since 2000

"The best ideas don't need to be sought out at all; you just have to train yourself not to swerve out of the way when they jump out in front of you," remarks Jon Forss, co-founder of Non-Format.

10. Explore other creative disciplines

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Look beyond other illustrators and designers: photography, typography, fashion, film, packaging and signage, for instance.

11. Expand your mind

When Mič Styling open a new range of hairstyle salons aimed at a younger, trendier crowd, they asked Kitsch-Nitsch to design the interior

"It's like mushroom picking: you wander through the magical woods of inspiration and see a big, beautiful mushroom," are the surreal musings of Slovenian duo Kitsch-Nitsch. "Pick it, make a delicious meal, and if your friends like it, go into the woods for more."

12. Go against the flow

Try to approach every brief with the opposite of what everyone else would do. It might not be the direction you choose in the end, but it can help to avoid clichd scenarios.

13. Take notes on life

One of ink evangelist Joanna Basford's amazing illustrations

"The best ideas often come when doing completely random, uncreative tasks," confesses ink evangelist Johanna Basford. Jot them down as they come to you, or snap a photo of things that catch your eye.

14. Grab some 'you time'

Working on too many projects at once can stifle your creativity. If you're feeling burned out, take some time to yourself and turn everything off for a couple of days.

15. Don't be bound by the brief

There's a great interview with Jeff Knowles of Planning Unit on the Computer Arts website: http://www.computerarts.co.uk/interviews/planning-unit

On smaller jobs, less information can sometimes be better to avoid forced influences. "Your solution might open the client's eyes to new things," points out Jeff Knowles, founder of Planning Unit.

16. Broaden your horizons

Immersing yourself in particular arts or cultures that you wouldn't normally be interested in could lead to interesting mixed-context inspirations, so get involved.

17. Push the boundaries

Break out of rigid design processes once in a while and have a good old brainstorm

Experiment in your personal projects or, if you haven't got the time or energy after a hard day's work, go off on a tangent for an hour while working on an actual project.

18. Get a fresh perspective

View things from different angles. Some upside-down lettering in a stack of papers or a scrunched-up sketch can create unusual shapes and spark off new ideas.

19. Sleep on it when you can

Illustrator and letterer Jessica Hische created this typographical rug for her studio

"Try not to think and do on the same day," suggests Jessica Hische. "You tend to sort the good from the bad naturally, and occasionally come up with some really off-the-wall things overnight."

20. Shake up your surroundings

Try different working environments to keep things fresh. Sketch at home or on the train, refine final work in your studio, and brainstorm in coffee shops, for instance.

This is an updated version of an article that previously appeared on Creative Bloq.


Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he’s worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella. Follow him on Twitter @tom_may.