Creativity Tips for Visual Content Creators

Tim Hopma 11 years ago

Most – if not all - designers have felt that grinding feeling when our creative juices seem to be running a little low. Scratching our heads trying to redesign a client logo from a brief no longer than ten words can become a little frustrating.

We’ll sit there patiently waiting for a lightning bolt of inspiration to come crashing down on us but frustratingly – it doesn’t always come when we want or need it to. Rather than getting all red in the face with a mountain of screwed up sketches and scribbled notes, here are a few ideas to help get those creative juices flowing again.

Treat Yourself – Eat Some Chocolate

Have a break – have a bit of chocolate. This probably sounds like I’m just encouraging you to eat your troubles away, but even a small piece of chocolate has been found to release a magical chemical in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin has a direct impact on your mood and low levels of the chemical can make your body overly sensitive to stress and pressure.

Chill Out, Captain Stressypants

Sitting down all day at your desk while desperately trying to thrash out a piece of work before a deadline can always be a little soul destroying. After all, us office dwellers now spend an average of 5 hours and 41 minutes at our desks. But lets not get too carried away and swap our workstations for standing desks because walking and drawing might not yield the most professional results. Sometimes it’s best just to take a few minutes away from your desk so here’s a few ideas to escape from your desk and get your productivity back on track.

Walk The Walk

It doesn’t really matter where you go for a walk or even if it’s just to sit on a nearby bench, anywhere will do! Just get outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery and when you get back to your desk, you’ll (hopefully) find yourself less stressed and hopefully ready to jump back into your project with a clear head and a bit more enthusiasm.

Storms? Brew In

Excuse the wordplay but if it’s stormy and raining outside again and you really don’t fancy sauntering through the puddles and getting all wet – it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to bust out the brolly. Instead, take some time to fix a hot drink for you and your colleagues.

Some clever researchers at Wharton, Yale and Harvard universities concluded that helping others actually makes you feel less pressured for time and increases your sense of productivity.

Not only will you get to clear your head for a few minutes, the next time your colleague goes to Starbucks and you want to try that new double-dipped chocodoodle Tanzanian coffee, maybe they’ll think of you. Maybe not, but it’s all about playing the game. Besides, you’ve done a good deed for the day.

Talk The Talk

If you’re still struggling on a difficult piece of creative why not try and run a few ideas past someone with similar experience in designing. Try to discuss what you think could work or not work and talk through any ideas either of you may have. A quick five-minute conversation or brainstorm can produce new ideas and act as a catalyst and get you back on the creative wagon.

It might be a wagon with a broken wheel and a pioneer suffering from dysentery, but at least you’re on it! Where there’s smoke there’s fire so keep the momentum going.

Community Motivation

Online design communities are sprouting up quicker then Grandma’s tomato plants in an unusually warm spring. There’s plenty out there but rather than just a show and tell platform, they’re fantastic places for others to critique and give honest, valuable feedback on your designs.

Anybody can critique a piece of creative and while we all love to have our work praised by others, only an honest and confident designer can accept positive and negative feedback without their pride being damaged. After all, there’s always room for improvement and new techniques to learn.

That’s the beauty of some of the larger online design communities such as Dribbble, Behance and Forrst. Not only are each of these free communities named after non-existent words, they’re quite possibly some of the best sources of creative inspiration for fledgling designers and seasoned professionals alike.

Expand Your Horizons

As the old saying goes – if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards. If you’re struggling to get an extra hit of creativity and motivation, try working on unfamiliar areas to take your skillset to the next level.

You may consider yourself the best web designer in the world, but there’s no greater feeling then watching your flat design come to life through a bit of HTML and CSS wizardry. Wouldn’t it be great if Photoshop could just copy your layer style and automatically write the CSS for you? Well, you can sleep easier tonight folks because Photoshop CC and CS6 now have a new “Layer > Copy CSS” feature. Don’t panic if you’re not using the latest Adobe software though, the awesome CSS Hat plugin can hold your hand while you take your first baby steps in coding.

creativity tips

Skills Pay The Bills

If you’re not quite ready for a coding adventure to boost your creativity, try strengthening your existing skills to design a piece of creative outside of your comfort zone.

If you’re a superstar using Photoshop, why not push your boundaries and have a go at designing an isometric building in Illustrator or knocking up a user interface concept. At the very least, you might get to learn some new shortcuts in your favoured Adobe program or better still; you’ll have a shiny new piece of work that strengthens your portfolio. Give it a shot. You might surprise yourself!

Psychology & Positivity

So you’ve eaten some chocolate, gone for a walk, drank some tea, and you’re still struggling to think of a good idea worthy of spending your precious time on.

There are plenty of desktop wallpapers out there loaded with philosophical quotes to help inspire you but do these actually help? Debatable. Instead, try turning your head towards some super smart people who study the mind and its effect on creativity. One study showed that watching a few minutes of comedy actually had a positive impact on creativity by increasing the level of happiness.

Now, lets not get crazy and start watching funny videos on YouTube all day like this one, but if a few minutes of laughter can’t boost your creativity, at least it’ll put a smile on your face. Another study also backed a similar idea in that a positive mood can be harnessed to eliminate self-doubt and negative thoughts while strengthening your creative skills.

Even way back in 1926 a pensioner by the name of Graham Wallas was theorising about creativity. In his book The Art of Thought he outlined four insightful stages that combine to form the creative process.

creativity tips

Stage 1 – Preparation

This is essentially the planning or brainstorming stage where you can scribble down any ideas or take the time to browse through other examples of work that could inspire you. This stage might seem like it doesn’t really matter or you maybe you feel you can just skip right past it and get on with the real work, right? Mr Wallas disagrees. The preparation stage serves as the vessel to carry your ideas and aids your progression to the next stage – incubation.

Stage 2 – Incubation

The incubation stage is where you allow your subconscious to process your ideas and formulate an idea. During this time, the ideas that were covered previously can provide the necessary help or distraction for your subconscious to work it’s magic. It can take patience, energy, and a bit of gentle persuasion, but when it’s ready to hatch you’ll be ready for the next stage.

Stage 3 – Illumination

This is the – aha/eureka/lightbulb - stage when you get that warm feeling inside and a surge of direction. You’re fired up and feeling great so now you’re ready to bring your idea to life - whatever your chosen medium.

Stage 4 – Implementation

This is the final stage where you bring everything together and create your masterpiece. It may take a few tries to get to this stage where you feel satisfied with the outcome but determination and persistence are important elements that can help you nail that deadline.

While working through Wallas’ four stages of creativity, don’t feel disheartened when you implement an idea but aren’t pleased with the results. You may be able to tweak the creative or restructure an idea to help you in your quest for victory over the creative brain block.

To Conclude...

Now, obviously some of these points may not apply or appeal to every designer, but it’s always important to keep an open mind and absorb as many influences as possible. Designers work in all sorts of surroundings but remember that your passion for design, hunger to learn, and you’re workplace will all have a direct influence on your creativity.

Always strive to feel creatively stimulated in order to push your capabilities and take your proficiency to the next level. Try new things and explore new avenues. Remember – a bad design isn’t a failure, just a learning experience.


  • Stress will often lead to mental blocks and stave off creativity. If you’re feeling the heat, get out of the kitchen. Take a few minutes away from the room to take a breath, get your head together, and collect your thoughts.
  • Find some solace in online communities to spark new ideas and try new things. We never stop learning; so try following some of the best designers and you may be able to pick up a few techniques along the way.
  • Open your mind to methodologies or new psychology that could give you a different perspective on the creative process. Supplement your design skill with fresh knowledge from respected industry thinkers.
  • Don’t stop designing. Anything that pushes and drives you forward will always be a positive experience and a great chance to bolster your portfolio. It’s a win-win.
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