Avoiding Creative Block

Avoiding Creative Block

Written on: 21/09/2011

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes, we just sit in front of a blank screen with no inspiration. We draw nothing from our tired and fizzed out brains. What do you do when you have a creative block?

Well, due to my old (he will resent the word old) university lecturer Nik Mahon, I have a handful of solutions that always help me through a creative block, and I would like to share them with you in a mini-series all about Lateral Thinking in web design.

NikĀ is a lecturer at Solent University, and he specialises in Lateral Thinking techniques. When I was his student, we used to spend whole modules on these various techniques, and it would always, without fail, kick start some ideas from nothing. So thanks to Nik, I have modified some of the ideas and theories he has taught over the years to my own digital style, and that has helped me to avoid creative block in web design.

So, let’s get started with a technique. I won’t bore you with the old standard of mind mapping. If you aren’t already doing it, then shame on you! You should be.

For technique number one, we are going to use the Assumption Reversal method. This is pretty much what it says on the tin, you take some assumptions about a product, brand, service or whatever else, and you flip it on its head, then run with some ideas down that route.

Sound easy? Well that is because it is. But be warned, you have to give in to the power of lateral thinking – this is a bit like hypnosis, in the fact that if you think you will fail, then you probably will. You have to open your mind and have some fun. I also find that working with a partner on things like this can help a bit.

Ok, here is the method in a bit more detail and with an example.

To start with, grab a large (A3 preferably) pad and a marker pen. Now let’s say that we are designing a new website for say, a Removal Company called ‘Dave’s Movers’.

You may have some great ideas on layout right away, but if not, no problem, that is why we are doing this technique.

Now I want you to make an assumption about the site. This assumption can be anything from the serious (I assume that they would be cheaper than the bigger companies as they sound small time) to the down right ridiculous (I assume that they have a talking dog named Jeff that comes along to all of their jobs) – it doesn’t matter what your assumption is, it is all about getting your creative juices flowing.

So now take one of the assumptions, let’s take the one about being cheaper for now, and let’s flip that around. So what are you thinking? All of our minds work differently, some of you will think “Ok, so flipping the assumption means that they are more expensive” – others will think “It means they are the same price” and some of you will think “it means they are a bigger company than expected”. There is no wrong answer – but what you do next is important. You have to take that assumption and have some fun with it. So they are more expensive? Why? Let your mind wander – use the pad, draw a mind map!

Are they more expensive because they are the best? Because they have rocket fuel instead of petrol? Because their staff are so friendly and efficient. You can come up with a ton of ideas. But you have to think outside of the box – this method wont help you come up with a layout (ok, sometimes it does if you use it differently – see below) but what it does, is give you some really interesting ideas about the company that can lead you into a design style.

In terms of layout – I sometimes use this when I immediately see a layout for a site – I make that instant assumption that it should have a fixed width, or a sidebar, or the navigation should be horizontal – sometimes I challenge that by reversing my assumptions, and you know what? Sometimes that works for the best – sometimes my layouts improve dramatically because I challenge the normal assumptions I make about how a site should be laid out.

Some of you will find this post ridiculous – some will find it helpful – some will glance over it. But hey, if it helps one person avoid a creative block, then amen to that!

I hope you enjoyed it

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