When I first started working as a web programmer years ago, I was told you either are a web programmer or a web designer, but you cannot be both. Each job I worked at instructed me to concentrate on the area I was better in, which at that time I thought was merely programming. However, I enjoyed designing and continued to do it as a hobby. Over the years, I improved my design ability, and I have determined that that advice was flawed. Personally, I think everyone has a creative muse inside of them that just needs to be untapped. Not to mention, I consider it to be bad business not to be knowledgeable in as many areas as possible. In my opinion, a web programmer should know at least basic design, and a designer should know at least basic coding. So as web developers, we should all be interested in unlocking our creativeness.
Like all people paid to be imaginative, as web designers, we can experience a hindrance in the area of creativity, or worse we can lack inspiration or creative motivation in the first place, which can be very frustrating. As a web developer and a writer myself, I encounter this frustrating block of inspiration on a constant basis. Through my experiences, I have accumulated some useful tips that I have used to get inspired and release my creative muse. Although this will differ for each person, these tips work for me, and I hope you find them useful as well! Feel free to comment and give your own advice!
Be Patient with Planning
The planning phase of any project is one of the most important, and it is often not used. I know at times, I get excited about a project, or just want to finish as quickly as possible, so I bypass the planning and go directly into designing. Sometimes, when I do this, I have great success; but when I have my creative block, I have found that my best and most creative work has come when I have taken to time to sufficiently prepare by fully developing ideas, stretching designs, and mapping out a plan of attack for the project.
Have a Plan but Be Flexible
As I stated in the previous tip when I first get assigned a design project, I like to come up with a rough design plan; however, it is imperative to be flexible and be ready to change or go back to the beginning at any moment. Some designers think that they must stick to a design plan at all costs, and if they stray they will lose integrity, motivation, or worst, go over budget. However, if you only plan, without the willingness to be flexible, your designs will suffer because this causes forced creativity. Rather, be willing to be flexible, change, and adapt your designs and this will leave you open for more creative ideas!
Design Piece by Piece
Even though as a programmer, you will need to start from the beginning when you code, I suggest designing in no particular order. In fact, start in the part of the design that you find the most inspiration for, and continue to piece it together, until you are complete. For example, if the logo inspires you, start there, or it may be the menu or the background that moves you. Start in the area you feel is most important or you get a flash of ingenious, and work from there. This always helps me, because I used to think you must design the top of the page down; however, over the years, this would make me get encounter a creative block because the innovation was forced. Sometimes, I have had the opposite when I use this tip because sometimes I do everything I like first, and then get stumped for the rest; however, more times than not, if you start with the part of the page that inspires you most, it will usually lead to other areas of the page that inspire you, and your creative muse will continue to prosper!
Record all your Ideas
So often, inspiration will strike in the most unlikely of places, such as dinner at a restaurant, a taxi ride, a movie, or while out with friends. Personally, I suggest carrying a notepad or using your Blackberry or iPhone to be prepared to write down or record any ideas that come to your mind. How often have you had a strike of genius, only to forget the idea minutes later? It happens to the best of us, and to avoid it, I recommend always being ready to record all ideas in one manner or another, either with a notepad, your cell phone, or even a voice recorder. You never know when inspiration will hit. For example, many people get inspired by their dreams and wake up with ideas; however, they soon do not recall those ideas because they failed to immediately record them. So, in order to truly discover your creative muse, be ready to capture all innovative ideas immediately, so your creative spirit will never feel hindered or ignored!
Seek and You Shall Find
Seek inspiration, and I promise you will find it! Look for inspiration, and do not constantly wait for inspiration to come to you. One thing about being a web designer is that we all use other people’s work as inspiration. Just look at the hundreds of popular CSS Galleries that feature innovative designs to use as inspiration. For myself, I have originated so many ideas and inspiration browsing through CSS Galleries, art books, print ads, commercials, and other designer’s portfolios. When you actively look for inspiration, you will find it. You can take a look at my post, “25+ CSS Galleries to Promote your Work,” or my CSS Gallery, if you would like to see some galleries. Like I previously stated, there are times when inspiration finds you, but I suggest not always waiting for that stroke of genius to come. Be proactive about your creativeness, and you will be rewarded!
Back Away from the Computer
This tip is hard for most designers, because many designers, myself included, somehow feel staring at a half-designed page in Photoshop, will somehow make us more creative. First off, step away from the computer and try to stretch some ideas on paper. This can be helpful in seeing your ideas from a different perspective and allowing your brain to be free from staring at your computer all day. Also, I always suggest that people get away from the computer the moment they get stuck. Put away the design and do something else. This works well in writing as well because what it does allow you to become disconnected from your work, and when you return, you will be able to see it as a third party would see the work. This can be helpful for the over-critical person, who tends to dislike their own work. Moreover, it can be helpful for the person that thinks everything they do is marvelous because by leaving the design and coming back to it, you will be able to see your work from a different perspective. Finally, when you are stuck, do something else or even take a nap. Many times your inspiration will come when your mind is thinking about something completely different!
Ask for Assistance or Make a Design Team
Pride often stands in our way, and because if it, we feel asking for help will make us appear less capable. However, I recommend never feeling afraid to ask for help, because you will always be able to find someone to offer advice or suggest constructive criticism. Try to find someone who is willing to compliment your work, where compliments are due, but also someone who is willing to critique and give productive suggestions. In addition, sometimes two minds work better than one. When you are really stuck and cannot seem to get past a creative block, try to call on another designer to team up with you on the project. I enjoy working on team projects because it allows you to bounce ideas off one another, and increase your ability for a truly innovative design!
Practice Makes Perfect
This last tip is a great way to keep that creative muse alive, once you have found her! Keep designing and practicing in all your free time. Anytime I have some spare time, I try to stretch ideas on paper or open Photoshop or Dreamweaver and make some sample menus, logos, background patterns, vectors, and play with fonts. When I have a lull in design projects and have a full plate of programming projects, I like to take the time to get my mind back on design. When this happens, I will even design full websites to keep my mind fresh and my artistic power working. Practice does make perfect in this regard, so you do not want to get rusty! Moreover, this tip has an added bonus, because when you are in a tight timeframe for a project, you will have some sample designs ready to use, that will only require some modifications.