The Design Rut: Tips + Tricks to Stay Inspired

As creatives, we can all relate to hitting “the wall” or the “design rut” at some point in our careers. Maybe it’s at the start of a project and the design brief just isn’t speaking to you. Or perhaps it hits you midway through the process and things aren’t jiving like they used to. At KEEN we all work together to keep each other inspired. Sometimes it involves an impromptu brainstorm, some research, or passing the project over to some fresh eyes. The important thing is to recognize when you’ve hit a bump in the road and act on it, rather than waste precious hours.

Here are some tips, processes, tutorials, and other tools in the box we turn to when we get stuck.

When the road starts to get rough:

  • Turn to your co-workers: Chat it out and collaborate. Sometimes the simplest fix is to start a dialogue about your design. We often have an “Ah ha!” moment just by explaining our challenges with others.
  • Walk away: We spend so much of our day staring at screens – phones, computers, TVs… Sitting and staring at the screen and pushing pixels are major time wasters, so get off your butt and take a walk. This could be as simple as taking a lap around the office, or stepping outside and getting some fresh air. At KEEN we like to get active over our lunch breaks with workouts at the nearby park, running, yoga or spin classes. Getting your heart rate up is a great way to de-stress and come back to your desk with a fresh mind.
  • Work on something else: Forget about the project for a couple of hours or a couple of days. Work on something else. Your brain needs a break; so get inspired with another project.
  • Watch a movie, concert or play: I always feel super inspired to take on the world after a good movie or concert. A good opening or closing credit reel in a movie is often a creative boost for me. Even if the film doesn’t hit you with a strike of inspiration, it’s a good excuse to take a break and recharge for a bit.
  • Sketch BEFORE going to the computer: Don’t rely on the computer for inspiration or getting a perfect polished result instantly. Working out the design problem on paper first helps flush out those initial ideas so you can get to the good stuff.
  • Flip through a book or two: Pinterest, Beehance, Dribbble and many other websites are great sources of information, but there is still magic in sitting down with a good book. The tactile experience makes it so much more enriching without being bombarded with thousands of images all at once.
  • Store inspiration as you go for reference, emergencies or future projects: In design school I kept a box of things I found interesting. It ranged from ads and posters, to knick-knacks, to boxes that folded in strange ways, to pieces of fabric with fun patterns. I encourage you to keep a box of things that inspire you or collect your ideas in other formats for safekeeping. At KEEN, we all use Pinterest to share bits of inspiration from around the web. If you are working on a project for a client, make sure to make your board private to keep the project internal.

It is also important to keep the mind active and engaged even when you aren’t in a design rut. Keeping your design toolbox full of fresh ideas is important to stay up-to-date with the evolving community.

Here are some events, activities, workshops and snippets we use to stay inspired and get over that design rut:

Office Activities

  • Lunch workouts
  • Creative activities over lunch hour: This has included food typography, crocheting scarves, and type doodling. When we find something we want to learn, we teach each other!
  • Rotating book exchange: Each week a designer brings in a couple of design books from their personal collection to share with the team.
  • Spontaneous creative exercises: This ranges from paper airplane contests, colouring, to lunge laps around the office to get us away from our desks.
  • Daily foosball or foosball tournaments are also great for team building!

Workshops + Local Gatherings

Online Tutorials

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