How to Fail Creatively

May 16, 2013

Every so often I find myself having designer’s block. The inspiration is just not there and my creative magic has been depleted. When faced with this block in the past, I would blindly  throw things against the wall and see what sticks. Often times the result is either off mark, ugly, or unoriginal. So I repeat the experiment over and over again, only to fail over and over again.

I know inevitably I’m going to hit these creative blocks, so over time I’ve developed and borrowed a few creative exercises that have helped me reset and open my mind to new and fresh ideas. These exercises allow me to get out of the rut of repeated failure so I’m not making quick and rash design choices. Although design-centric, I hope these tips can somehow help you.

Seek Inspiration Elsewhere

If you’re working on a website design, don’t just seek out inspiration by looking at other website designs. Inspiration is everywhere — not just on the internet. I once got inspiration for a project from looking at Filipino pottery. I saw a pattern I liked on a vase, so I took that pattern and ran with it. I’ve been inspired by nature, by my family, and by food. Inspiration is in abundance if you just go out there and open your mind to it.

Step Away

Sometimes all you need is to take a break from the current challenge you’re stuck on. Step away from the computer and take a breather. Maybe even sleep on it. I can’t count how many times I’ve been stuck in a section of a video game, only to come back an hour, or a day, later and immediately conquer it. The same goes for my design challenges. Sometimes I just need to step away from the screen and allow my mind to refresh and recollect itself, instead of remaining in a zombie state, mindlessly throwing things against the wall.

Get a Second Opinion

When in a rut, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and for your mind to close off. At times like these, I like to ask someone else, not necessarily a designer, about their opinion. I have them do a quick critique of my work. I had my wife do one such critique and found that she saw the design challenge in an entirely different light. She reframed the challenge, in a way I would not think to do myself, and I was instantly snapped out of my design rut.

Do Something Wildly Different

I mentioned above that often times the result of throwing things at the wall and seeing if they will stick is failure. But sometimes it does lead to success. Sometimes going off on a tangent, or trying something wildly off mark, can lead to something new. Some of my designs are frankensteins of little successful elements taken from (overall) failed attempts. Each failure brought with it a new discovery, and I was able to build and improve on it.