We're living through weird, unprecedented times right now, and dealing with it all isn't easy when you're expected to be creative for a living. You might be struggling with having to work from home, facing uncertainty over your job, or simply be overwhelmed by everything that's going on.
Of course you may be taking it all in your stride and using the current lockdown as an opportunity to try new ideas and play around with experimental design. But if you're just not feeling it, some design exercises can help fire those weary synapses and keep your skills honed, ready for when things start getting back to normal. We've found this selection, covering everything from serious design challenges through to fun creative games; try them out next time you're tempted to just reach for another box set.
01. Icon studies
CreativeLive has a great set of exercises (opens in new tab) aimed at improving your drawing skills for graphic design; our favourite is based around creating effective icons. A good icon needs to be instantly recognisable, capturing the distinguishing characteristics of your subject within a tiny space.
CreativeLive suggests picking an animal or common object as your subject and trying to depict its neutral, universal aspects, trying a few versions from different angles to see which is the most recognisable, and combining different aspects to achieve the best silhouette.
02. The Bézier Game
Bézier curves are an essential part of the graphic design toolbox, but executing them perfectly – especially when you're just starting out with Illustrator – isn't always easy. If you're having trouble with those pesky handles, The Bézier Game (opens in new tab) will help you get a better feel for creating commendable curves.
Not only does it walk you through the process of making curves that bend in exactly the way you want, it also challenges you to think about your process and create your shapes using as few nodes as possible.
If you're after a regular challenge, the Graphic Design School has something for you in the form of its weekly design exercises, or DEX (opens in new tab). They're free and provide an assortment of tasks that'll keep your skills ticking over across the design board.
Each exercise gives you a brief as well as a tutorial video to help you meet your goal – the latest at the time of writing challenges you to create beautiful type design editorials for print and web – and hooks you up with resources as well specifying design constraints and how long you're allowed for each exercise.
04. How Low Can Your Logo?
Here's a fun site that's the absolute antithesis of most design exercises. At How Low Can Your Logo? (opens in new tab) you're encouraged to throw away all your design inhibitions, forget everything you've learned and go all-out to create a truly terrible logo, working from a horrible brief from a dreadful startup.
There are actual prizes to be won for the most awful logos, and the judging panel includes design luminaries such as Jessica Hische and Michael Bierut. Do your worst!
Some days – maybe more so at the moment – you're just not feeling creative and you need something to fire up your inspiration glands. If that's you right now, over at 99designs they've put together a set of six fun creative thinking exercises (opens in new tab) for designers that are guaranteed to get your mind nicely stimulated.
Our favourite is based around deconstructing content: take a word and start chopping bits out of it to create a design; it's easy to do and can generate impressive results, and you can follow up by taking a similar approach to patterns, photographs and other imagery.
Careless kerning can ruin your typography; here's a fantastic way to polish your skills and produce text layouts that are a lot easier on the eye. KernType (opens in new tab)'s a browser-based game that presents you with a series of badly-kerned words; the first and last letters are fixed in place, and your job is to shift the other letters around to try and find that sweet spot where everything's beautifully balanced.
Each challenge is marked out of 100 – if you think your solution is better-looking than the game's, there's an option to share it – and at the end you'll be given a final score, which you'll probably want to go back and beat later on.
07. Hue Test
Finally, give your colour perception a bit of a workout with Hue Test (opens in new tab). It's easy to play; you're presented with rows of coloured blocks, and you have to rearrange them so that the hue flows smoothly from beginning to end. Getting it exactly right, though, involves a lot of swapping blocks around and squinting at the screen.
At the end you're presented with an evaluation of your colour vision; bear in mind, though, that if you don't score as well as you'd hoped it could be that your display's not up to scratch, in which case be sure to check out our guide to the best 4K monitors.