A designer’s greatest challenge isn’t necessarily in coming up with a good design, but in coming up with a good design that is different. When the client is expecting multiple design mock ups finding the balance between a design that is innovative and unique while also maintaining a high level of usability can feel like an uphill struggle. You really like how your first design came together and the temptation can be to borrow from and lean on those same strengths in your second mock. This quickly turns the uphill struggle into a long fall down a slippery slope, and the next thing you know your two designs bear an uncanny similarity that is impossible to miss. Ever find yourself in this situation?
Know your client
Try to get a solid grasp of your clients branding strategy and message (whether the client is able to give it to you or not) before you get too far into the design process. Some clients invest more in defining their brand than others, but some research on your part of their market and competition can help you to grasp what they’re all about and what their expectations will be. Once you’ve done your research, you can begin planning out your design strategy: for example, design one could focus on one aspect of their branding, while design two will focus on another, etc. While planning out your strategy, ask yourself the following questions: can any part of their message be communicated through imagery? Are there important pieces of information that need to be highlighted in the design? Has the client made any specific design requests or suggested any similar websites that they’d like to draw inspiration from?
When working on multiple mocks for the same client, start with a new file each time. Beginning a design by deconstructing a previous mock may seem like a good idea, but you’ll likely be leaning on the crutches of your previous design, which doesn’t usually allow for a unique vision. You should always try to start fresh without any preconceptions. Sure, you may want to reuse a couple of the original design elements (text from the primary navigation, for example) but make it a point to start with a fresh canvas whenever possible.
Sites like Smashing Magazine and Pattern Tap can be a valuable asset during the design process since they’re are constantly compiling galleries of the latest design trends and showcasing unique and creative designs. The highly innovative nature of the designs means that most of the sites they showcase generally tend to be blogs and designer portfolios, but just because the site your working on is for a lawn mowing service doesn’t mean that they aren’t relevant! Observe how they manipulate the ‘standard’ layout idea and how that manipulation affects the site’s usability, how they use color and typography, how they arrange the page elements in the spacial plane, etc. Bringing in an idea from an unrelated site and adapting it to fit within the needs of a completely different project can, if nothing else, give you a fresh insight that could lead to a break through in the design.
Take a break!
When you get to the point that you feel like you’re in a rut, your shoulders are starting to hunch, and you get that twitch in your eye, and it’s already long past time for a coffee (or tea!) break, roll your head back and stare at the ceiling, touch your toes, take a quick walk outside, or do whatever it takes to get the blood flowing again. This is one of the most common pieces of advice you can find on getting past a creative block, and for good reason!
Try a different tool
Some designers swear by their pen and paper rough drafts. For others, the idea of starting anywhere other than Photoshop is completely out of the question. However, if you find yourself staring at the same Photoshop document for an extended period of time with the same vacant expression on your face, it might be time to change mediums. Concordantly, if your sheet of paper just isn’t doing it for you, try hopping into Photoshop or Illustrator. The change of setting and tools can free you from thinking within the confines of your usual tool set and give you fresh ideas on a new approach to the design.
What do you do when you find yourself in a rut?