How Lists Can Help Conquer Creative Blocks

At some point in your careers, all graphic designer’s will run into a creative drought, where all your once good ideas come to a screeching halt. But don’t worry, a creative block is only temporary and happens to the best of us.

If your in the midst of a creative block or wondering what you can do the next time you run into one, below is a list of 10 techniques that will help you conquer your next creative block, while opening your eyes to new creative methods and inspiration.

Borrow (don’t steal!)

The phrase, “there are no new ideas; everything has been done already”, gets tossed around the design community quite often, and with perfect reasoning to support it.

Look at how other designer’s solve problems and observe their approach to design. Make sure you don’t steal their ideas. Rather use it as a starting point for one of your own. Draw inspiration from it. Books and website inspirational galleries are great for this sort of thing.

Explore the Masters

Focus on the work of the “Masters”. Much like the young entrepreneur painters did at one point — studying the work, methods, ideas and lives of other great designers can open your mind to new methods to approach design.

Also, I’ve found reading other designer’s creative processes help me look at things differently.


Sketching on paper is a great way to release creative block frustration. It helps to get as many ideas out as quickly as possible.

Also, try sketching things that are completely unrelated to the project you are working on. Take your mind off what your work and get lost in your sketch book.

Do Tutorials

Tutorials are a great way to boost creativity and learn new techniques. You never know when a new technique can be applied to your current project.

Mind Map

Mind mapping is like sketching, but with words instead of pictures. It helps to get ideas and connections down quickly on paper and explore a topic.

Stop Designing

One of the more common reasons for a prolonged creative drought is that fact that your stressing out about it. So stop and walk away from it for awhile — take a walk, play music, go the gym, take a drive. Do something else you enjoy.

You’d be surprised by how much stress can alter the creative process.

Design More

Contrary to the above, designing more can also help in creative droughts. Try switching from your client’s project to your own experimental, self-inspired project where you have less limitations and can explore more.

You can also dabble in other forms of art or creativity — try painting, making a collage or writing. This will help open up new windows of creativity.

Surround Yourself with Designers

Creativity breeds creativity… Feed off your peers and use them as a source of inspiration and assistance. Sometimes, simply surrounding yourself around other creative minds is all you need.

Surround Yourself with Non-Designers

You’d be surprised by the responses and feedback a person that does not design for a living could provide you. Try asking them what comes to mind when they read the creative brief.

Travel back in time

Observing old painting and architecture can help you find new elements that reflect a client’s brand or vision. Take a trip to an art gallery or museum.

Listen to Music

Though I listed listening to music as a solution to getting away from your work, I felt that music should have a category of its own.

It’s unbelievable how much music can influence your designs. Don’t just listen to songs you always play. Try discovering new sounds and see where it takes you.

Collect Trash

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, so why not find inspiration in every day objects. Found objects can be a great source of creativity materials. Randomness can be extremely inspiring.

Dissect the Design

Instead of jumping right into the concept as a whole, try deciding on other elements first and let the rest follow.

Choose your color palette or the font and go from there. Sometimes all it takes is seeing a fantastic color palette that would work well for the project, which sets the tone for the end result.

Future-proof Creative Blocks

In order to be a successful graphic designer, you should always be on the lookout for new ways to improve your work and career. Taking notes as you seen them is a great resource for dealing with future creative blocks.

Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of a creative block. Prepare yourself, so when the time comes you have collateral to draw upon.

Write a list on how to conquer creative blocks

This post was inspired from a recent creative block I was having. Instead of stressing out about my current predicament, I opened my word processor and began typing this post — and you probably guessed it! I had conquered my momentary creative inability half way through this post!

By taking my mind of things for a minute, or actually putting my mind more into it, I had solved my creativity problems and hopefully helped others with their own.

Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Angie Bowen says:

    Great list! I want to give mind mapping a try, I’ve never used it but can see the benefit of it. I used to do collage and assemblage and had to make myself cut back on collecting trash. I constantly found useful and interesting items just walking around town.

  2. Rob says:

    Great post! It’s always great to have posts like these handy for those times when the muses mysteriously disappear for a spell!

  3. Jeff says:

    Great post Brian. To pick up on “collecting the trash,” I keep a scrapbook of things I pick up or see around town: museum brochures, menus, stationary, postcards, etc; and I keep a camera in my pocket to photograph other things: building signs, facades, etc.

  4. @Jeff:

    I have a lot of things like that too so when I look back on random snippets of info I wrote about a few months before, the new ideas and amount of ideas that come from them jumpstarts the creative process again.

  5. Brian says:

    Mind mapping is a great method to starting off any design, whether you are in a creative slump or not. It really helps to get the ideas flowing.

    Collecting is one of my favorite things to do! Check out my article 16 Tips to Becoming a Better Designer that talks more about collecting and photographing things as you seen them, like you said.

  6. Andy Sowards says:

    #9 is a great point, which can go for anything really, I remember when I first went from Design to Programming, My insight to the programming world was completely different than the person that taught me, and I in essence brought new ideas to their table that they had not been able to see before, because when you do something for a while, your mindset is seemingly stuck and can sometimes benefit from an outside opinion on how something is done :).

    Great post as always Behoff!

  7. Hans says:

    Great post, thank you. I use mind mapping a lot and it is really useful.

  8. Jeremy says:

    Awesome list of ideas. For me, working day in and day out often leads to a slow down in creativity, but sometimes you just have to push through to stay on schedule, this list of ideas could come in very handy.

    Lately I have found myself combing design & inspiration sites outside of web galleries when I get stuck. Often times I can find some really great ideas in something like packaging design for example. Then I take small clippings and create a collage in Photoshop and just stare at it for awhile.

    Like you said, in the end it’s all about keeping your eyes open at all times, looking for inspiration, ideas and ways to improve.

  9. Brian says:

    Package design is a great source of inspiration and is often overlooked. I always felt that package design was the lost art of graphic design. You don’t hear many people discussing it in the design community, so I’m glad you brought it up. Thanks for the comment!

  10. Man, this is nice. Great post.

  11. Greg Huntoon says:

    Good list here. I also suggest adding to it: reading kids books. Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss are two authors that always get my head spinning in a different direction when I’m stuck. Shel’s illustrations are wonderfully complex and intelligent. Dr. Seuss books contain some of the best color explorations on earth.

    Glad I stumbled along this article…

  12. flu says:

    Yeah it really is a nice post, but really I just wanted to be the lucky 1,000th.

  13. Kostandinos says:

    Cool to see these ideas in a list and glad to know that I practice quite a few of them on a regular basis. Sketching, mind-mapping, and exploring the masters via books and websites are the ones I use the most.

    To expand on Exploring the Masters, here is one technique I use less often now. It came in very handy shortly after college when I no longer had the constant interaction of teachers and other students to bounce ideas off of and get critiques: I used to copy layouts and designs of the greats – verbatim. Tschichold and Müller-Brockmann and others. By doing this, it allowed me to really understand their reasoning without being able to personally ask them why. Reading books about them could only do so much and this was my version of a tutorial or class taught by them. After a while, the style becomes a part of your arsenal without evening knowing; it is no longer copying because it’s inside you and you understand what you’re doing and why. Just don’t mash-up too many different styles at once. ;P

    Nice job! :)

  14. [...] How Lists Can Help Conquer Creative Blocks | The Design Cubicle Lists help defeat Creative Blocks! Good post (tags: design tutorial) [...]

  15. [...] How Lists Can Help Conquer Creative Blocks [...]

  16. Great tips! Something that works for me is changing my environment. Something as simple as going to the bookstore and reading magazines/books for a couple hours or taking my laptop and working from a coffee shop.

    Also, I think exploration and curiosity are a designer’s best friend. In fact, they’re great for anyone that wants to be more creative. Strive to step out of your familiar surroundings and routines. It sounds really simple, but it works wonders. :)

  17. [...] de creatievelingen die soms last hebben van een block… Misschien kan dit je verderhelpen. [...]

  18. Thank you for your Great Piece of Work,

    While i reading your blog, It take me to the Past Activity when i was under creative block. This one is really impressive.

  19. Brian says:

    Creative Freaks,
    Thank you. It was quite an interesting concept of breaking a creative block for me as well. Glad you enjoyed the read.

  20. Lauren says:

    This helps out a lot! I remember in my last semester of college I had a huge creativity block. Perhaps it was because of stress trying to finish a bunch of projects by a certain date, or the fact that I was taking 18 credits that semester but it hit me all of a sudden. I had been working on these projects for so long and trying to come up with different ideas that I forgot about having a concept! That is the most important thing! I don’t know if that happens to others when they are designing so many projects at once, but I wasn’t thinking of concepts for my projects. I was just trying to design something that looked nice but had no meaning. As soon as I sat down, looked up some inspiration, and started to write about the project, the ideas came flowing in!

  21. Shahnila says:

    loved the article. the fact is human machanism works in on n off mode. we cannot be machines. so the more you feel relax and motivated, the more you would be able to produce good results.

  22. Richard says:

    I agree with the walk, but I wouldn’t go for a drive after pulling my hair out thinking of a design. It could be quite dangerous…

  23. Wyn says:

    This book has just come out with actual kick starters on how to get out of a block rather than boring theories! It’s hilarious and my goodness i wouldn’t be without it now!!
    seriously, it’s brilliant!
    :) wyn

  24. interesting ideas for that frustrating creative drought we all succumb to. I agree w/ the “stop designing” mentality and physically removing yourself from the present quagmire. Better yet place yourself in a new environment that you are not accustomed to and absorb the surroundings.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: