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Creativity is a mind set. No matter what you do: paint, sculpt, design, build websites, repair cars or sell copy machines — to be successful in whatever you do you must be creative, you must think differently. New ideas don’t always leap out of your head and wake you up at four in the morning. Most of the time new creative concepts are developed and influenced by many outside forces. Unfortunately, as web builders we tend to get caught up in mundane or tedious tasks that seem to suck the creativity out of us and cause us to get into a creative slump.
When we think of the word ‘creative’ we generally think about artists who paint, write songs or design architectural master pieces. But just because you or I do not have a passion for these things doesn’t mean you or I aren’t creative individuals. Say you buy and sell media spots on the interwebs, you have to be creative everyday just to stay ahead of your competition or be able to find those new niche markets.
Also, we generally consider creativity a talent or an attribute one has and often we compare ourselves to those other ‘artists’ and determine that we are not the creative type. But creativity is not a trait, it’s a mindset, a particular way of thinking and looking at things. It can be learned and honed over time and experience, over observation and influence — it’s something we all have but sometimes we just need to bust that creative slump we paint ourselves into by:
- Taking a risk and experimenting
- Becoming inspired
- Finishing stuff
I’ll take a wild guess and say that most of us reading this are not mechanics or copier salesman. So the rest of this article is for you, the builders of the web; the designers, the developers, the writers, the entrepreneurs, the software engineers, the UX philosophers. The good news for you is: there are plenty of ways to bust that creative slump. I’ve compiled a nice little list of ‘things’ or ‘ideas’ that can help you get back on your feet and start honing those creative chops again, or even just start honing those creative chops.
Be Risky and Experiment
First, let’s start with a big idea. Taking risks. Risk taking on the web is actually a very accepted thing, successful designers and developers do it on a regular basis. We don’t live in an industry that is unwilling to think differently, although some companies do seem pretty scared and set in their old practices. But a huge way of busting that slump is to just take a risk and hop out of your comfort zone every once in a while.
- Try other mediums
- Try a different design or development tool
- Try a new UI layout
- Try a “scary” or hard to manage color scheme
Even if it has nothing to do with you daily tasks or job duties do something that you wouldn’t normally do — push your boundaries a little, see how far you can go. Experiment with other languages, other software programs, other design or development tools, try using a color that you have never used before, try a different UI layout or element that has always made you nervous. If you don’t know where your creative boundaries are, the only real true way to find them is to go there.
No, I’m not talking about the people who can see dead people, I’m talking about design and development mediums. In the fine art world mediums would be the different disciplines like oil paints, water colors, charcoal or sculpture. In the web world mediums are languages, tools, managements systems, data base schemas or even just development processes. Ruby, CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML5, canvas, responsive or adaptive design (you pick the buzzword and you pick the medium).
If you really want to take a risk and experiment, scare yourself and use Expression Engine or Square Space instead of WordPress in your next CMS project. Scare yourself and write your next web app with Backbone.js. Mockup your next design in Fireworks instead of Photoshop. Time and inexperience are really the only risks you are taking. Sure it can be scary to try a new language or design concept and it may take you two hours just to figure out how a gradient works in Illustrator.
It may take your whole day chasing down some weird bug in Xcode and you’ll be sacred that your boss thinks your just planting more zombie killing virtual plants. But you’re guaranteed to learn something from it or even learn something about yourself from it.
Alright, I’m gonna preface this by saying there are tons of web design blogs and sites out there that can be very inspiring and by the fact that you are reading this sentence right now — you have found the best little corner of the web for inspiration, so there is no need to look anywhere else. I kid. Be inspired, not only by the wonderful articles and tutorials here but by other design magazines, other forms of expression or even other peoples’ work.
- Read design and development magazines
- Inspect other sites and apps – find out what makes them tick
- Write something on Codepen, post something to Dribbble or Forrst
- Read or listen to a book (about web development or not, it doesn’t matter)
- Go to a book signing even if you don’t know the author
- Take a walk through an art gallery
- Follow a photographer at a wedding reception
- Watch the ‘behind the scenes’ extras on a DVD
- Attend a web conference, attend a TED talk (or watch them online)
These are only just some of the ways you can become inspired to do something and bust that slump. The key thing here is to find something that will ignite that passion you have for building web sites and apps. I find that reading or even just scanning design mags will always peak my interest in something.
I also frequent art blogs that focus around other artistic genres like sculpture, performance art, street art or illustrations. I’ve also found that taking a peak under the hood of cool sites to be very inspiring. Finding out how they accomplished something is always a fun journey — thank goodness the web is an open platform.
Codepen, Dribbble and Forrst
For the designers, Dribbble and Forrst are great places to view, critique and get feedback on designs, and boy, are there plenty of really incredible designs out there. You’ll need an invite for Forrst and Dribbble if you are interested in posting your own work and you’ll need a GitHub account for Codepen, but to get truly inspired is to write or design for yourself, challenge yourself and then get some feedback on what you’ve accomplished.
All that Other Random Stuff, too
Yep, read a book, attend a book signing, visit an art gallery, observe a photo shoot, watch the extras and attending a conference are important things to being inspired also. I really only list them here because I’ve done them and have walked away from each one with a head full of new ideas and some even being directly related to my career. Really, these things are about finding out how others think, observing their creative process and learning what inspires them to be creative.
Last but not least, finish stuff. Finish a challenge or project all the way through from beginning to end even if three quarters of the way you just feel like jumping ship — finish it.
Fulfillment is a huge part of creativity, seeing a project in it entirety and holding its hand through the forest is a great way to bust that creative slump. And it has nothing to do with the success of the project, the project may fail, never be used or even be abandoned after it’s complete. But the process of getting there, the struggles, the failures and the success along the way can teach you huge things about your creative boundaries and how far you can go in your next project.
The other huge thing that occurs when you finish something is satisfaction. Not because the project was a wild hit but because you got to the finish line.
Being creative is a state of mind and finding that creative state of mind can be difficult. But when something is finished and you can look at that thing sitting in front of you and then look back at how it got there. See every mistake you made, every new idea you explored and every step you took in the process of building it — you’ll be able to see the risks that you have taken and become inspired by YOUR work.
What are your sources of inspiration and what are your ways of getting out of a creative slump? Share them here.