Facing and Overcoming Creative Ruts

graphicheaderWe have all been there, the creative rut. As a Graphic Designer working at a church, I know everything I am designing communicates something important. Whether a kid’s baptism event invite, or a directional sign for our new care ministry, I know God is doing something big all over our campus. Each project is a small part of making that happen. It can put some healthy pressure on the quality of these graphics, and how well I can visually communicate even the smallest thing. Sometimes, I just can’t come up with anything, or at least anything good. What I like to do when facing a creative rut, is lean on all the guidelines I have been building. Sometimes these are things I can do while in my rut, or things I need to consider as I start to put pen to paper, or image to document. I think these things could be helpful in different creative areas, if you place them in your context.

1. Listen to the heartbeat…

There is a lot that you can get out of listening to a leader’s passion about their ministry, or hearing stories about how and why someone was impacted by a specific ministry or event. When I first started, I tried to attend each ministry’s event to get a good feel of their inner-workings and purpose. It is hard to design for something you don’t understand. I assume it is hard to pick worship songs if you don’t understand that Sunday’s message, or choose a stage design when you don’t understand the series. All upbeat, energetic worship wouldn’t work on a heavy, contemplative message week, just like a bright, bubbly flyer wouldn’t make sense with a ministry that serves those who are grieving.

2. Watch out for the impact…

There is a kind of assurance when I can see that a printed item catches attention and interest, that means I designed the piece well. If the response is a lot of questions, that could indicate interest, but sometimes it means I did not communicate clearly enough. Interest is ideal, confusion is detrimental. Even more important than whether something looks or sounds great, is if it communicates well.

3. Take advantage of Candid Criticism…

As a member of the staff that isn’t featured publicly, I have a bit of an advantage as I meet new people and hear their stories. No one knows that I designed the invite card they are turning in their hand. People tend to be more honest when they don’t know you’re involved. Some of the best feedback I have gotten has been from the candid criticism of new guests. Being watchful and taking in candid feedback is important to staying relevant and innovative. Ask people who you know don’t mind hurting your feelings, or don’t know it impacts you at all.

4. Put as much good design in front of you as possible…

No matter where you go, there is good and bad design, you are inundated with it daily. There are billboards, logos, advertisements, packaging, banners, menus, email blasts, and more. As you go through your daily life, take stock of what was both aesthetically pleasing, and well communicated. If something is particularly bad, take stock of that as well, and lay out why. When I said “take stock” I meant keep these items if possible, take a picture, write a note. I am sure it is the same for other areas, keep great worship songs in stock, go to sites that have great sound and tech tips. Like it has been mentioned in a past post, PINTEREST! Pinterest.com has so many beautiful design ideas, and one great advantage is that these are constantly being found and updated. There are lots of design sites that can offer a similar wealth of ideas, take advantage.

As I take these actions, and keep the things I learn in mind, the quality of communication tends to improve and grow. When I get in a creative rut, it seems to simply be a need to recalibrate. By going back to these things, I can do just that.

What ways do you use to overcome that inevitable rut?

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