Cure for the creative rut

Written March 21, 2017 by Kevin Gamache

As designers with a specific expertise, our daily routines often have us creating the same types of projects over and over. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it allows us to finely tune our skill set and efficiently work through tasks to come up with quality solutions.

But once in a while it can cause us to fall into the dreaded creative rut. You know the feeling: ideas feel recycled and excitement and creativity wane. When this happens, it can be difficult to come up with truly creative solutions time and time again, day in and day out. But that’s what our clients are paying us for, so it’s important to break out of that rut as soon as you feel it coming on.

What is great about working in a smaller agency is the opportunity to take on different tasks and wear different creative hats on a regular basis, which really helps to get through those ruts. With my background, I will most likely be creating responsive website designs; but I often get asked to chip in on a logo project, or go on-site to a client’s business to shoot a corporate philosophy video. This helps to break up the monotony of my daily routine, but also brings out new ideas that help in that expertise as well.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little nervous taking on these additional tasks at first. My comfort zone has been firmly planted within the realm of web design. My workflow was done almost entirely on the computer, going from site architecture to wireframes to high-fidelity design comps. Basically pushing pixels around in various Adobe programs. Getting behind the camera, or sketching logo concepts on paper, felt intimidating. But it turned out to be an entirely refreshing change. Diving in and re-sharpening those skills I hadn’t used in years inspired me to continue learning and to push myself creatively. To not settle on the “comfortable” solution because it’s easy. And it’s given me the confidence to pursue other things I haven’t done since college, like photography and drawing.

The idea of “cross-training” our brains isn’t a new one. After looking into it a bit more, I’ve read stories of professional athletes cross-training in different sports not only for the physical benefits, but for the mental benefits as well. It keeps certain parts of their brains active and stimulated, which improves physical performance and prevents the body from slowing down.

Changing up our daily routines can help us unlock new ideas and thoughts. For inspiration, check out your local antique stores and see how product packaging was done in the past. Flip through old magazines and pay attention to the advertising. Start a scrapbook. Visit an art museum or gallery. Join a meet-up group or enroll in continuing education classes for a new skill that interests you.

The next time you feel the creative rut coming on, get out of your comfort zone. Cross-train your brain, and you’ll likely find yourself feeling motivated, fresh and inspired.