Combating Designer’s Block

By LaurenMarie

All of us have suffered from it. Designer’s block is miserable, uninspiring and downright discouraging. There are tons of “inspiration” posts that Smash you with information, but does that really help?

Lack of Inspiration
Bad Idea by Kapungo

The Work

This is going to get a little personal, but bear with me. Have you ever considered that your designer’s block is actually a psychological defense? It’s probably stemming from fear about something (yes, I was a Psychology major before discovering graphic design).

I just discovered this awesome process that I think might help combat the block. It’s called The Work by Byron Katie.

Designers can use it like this:

The instructions on the site say to answer the questions (copied here for convenience).

Don’t censor yourself; don’t be wise or “spiritual.” Take this opportunity to express your negative feelings on paper.

from ellikelli

1. Who angers, irritates, saddens, or frustrates you, and why?

I am frustrated with Bob because he doesn’t like the way I design. He always criticizes me.

2. How do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?

I want Bob to declare my design the best in the world… or at least affirm my creative solutions.

3. What is it that they should or shouldn’t do, be, think, or feel? What advice could you offer?

Bob should give me constructive criticism so I can improve.

Bob shouldn’t berate me and my work.

4. What do they need to do in order for you to be happy?

I need Bob to affirm my design choices and encourage me.

5. What do you think of them? Make a list.

Bob is inconsiderate, rude, egotistical and close-minded.

6. What is it that you don’t want to experience with that person again?

I don’t ever want to be criticized by Bob again.

Turn Negative Thoughts Around

Take one of the negative thoughts from the above 6 questions. For the example, I’ll take “Bob thinks I’m a bad designer; that’s why he’s always criticizing me.”

Then ask the following questions. Meditate on the answers.

1. Is it true?

Yes it’s true. The evidence is he is always criticizing my work!

2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

Well, I’ve never asked Bob if he thinks I’m a bad designer, so I suppose I can’t know for sure, no.

3. How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?

When I believe Bob thinks I’m a bad designer, I start feeling like I really am a bad designer! I question my ideas and I doubt that I can ever produce another good design in my life, no matter how hard I try, how many books I read or how many “inspirational” design collections I look at. It just makes me feel bad about being me.

4. Who would you be without the thought?

I would be someone free from the fear of negative criticism. I would feel free to explore my own creative ideas and take my own path to an effective design. Hmm… I kinda like that idea!

Then turn it around (the concept you are questioning), and don’t forget to find three genuine examples of each turnaround.

The original statement: “Bob shouldn’t berate me and my work.”

Turnaround 1: Bob should berate me and my work. (Bob can do whatever he likes, the affect his actions have on me is MY choice… and maybe there is some truth in his criticisms)

Turnaround 2: I should berate Bob’s work. (Well, I don’t really want to repay like for like. It doesn’t feel good afterwards)

Turnaround 3: I shouldn’t berate myself and my work. (Hmm… so are these negative thoughts really coming from me? Do I discourage my own creativity because I judge my new thoughts before they come to fruition?)

Do this section for each though for questions 1 – 5 above. The sixth question is where the magic happens

Original: “I don’t ever want to be criticized by Bob again.”

Turnaround 1: I am willing to be criticized by Bob again. (More than likely it’s going to happen whether I like it or not. Can I be brave in the face that reality?)

Turnaround 2: I look forward to being criticized by Bob again. (Maybe this will give me a chance to confront Bob and ask him what he really thinks of my designs!)

Getting Back to the Design Part—Jumpstart Your Brain

So now that you’ve done The Work, do you feel freer to explore your creative ideas? Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Here are some ideas:

I’ve written before about copying designs you think are successful. Well, the underlying layout at least. It really can help get your brain in gear. Thumbnails are important and you need to get all your ideas on paper. Then you need to dig deep to get the really good stuff—the less obvious solutions.

Pick apart just one or two designs that you think are successful—the point of this is to work through being overwhelmed by thousands of designs. Ask questions: Why are these designs successful? How can you use the elements and principles of design to discover their “secret” and implement it into your own designs?

Brainstorm with a friend—designer or not. Non-designers can offer you a perspective you couldn’t have thought of on your own and maybe they will be less inhibited by the details of making an idea work. There are benefits to bouncing ideas off of a designer, too—already knows the industry, maybe has done something similar, keeps up on latest news and trends.

Doodle Dog

Doodle! The creative benefits to doodling are championed by the likes of Von Glitschka, Milton Glaser
and me ;)

So what do you think? Is this all a load of hooey? Does a designer’s psychology really play a role in how creative he or she is? Do you think this process will help you at all? I’d love to talk in the comments!

This post is my entry for Just Creative Design’s $11,000 Group Writing Project. There’s still time to join in! Deadline for entries is November 22nd.