Shaking up creative block…

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Stay curious. Break the rules. Rebuild them. Challenge old business models, challenge education, challenge politics, challenge establishments, challenge ideas. 

Producing effective work is more difficult than most people think…heres some advice on reaching the ‘big idea’.

Sail’s mantra is disruption. Disrupting the agency sector, disrupting the market, disrupting old business models, working in new, collaborative ways. 

We positively challenge ourselves and our clients, giving honest feedback and recommendations.  We don’t want to just ‘create more stuff’. We want to create better work, that has impact. As a small team of four, it isn’t about growth, team and process for us, our focus is emotional connection and experience. Ideas are what drive us, and allow us to create our best work for our clients. However, ideas are not always easy to reach…

As a creative professional, conceptual thinking, innovation or ‘thinking outside the box’ can be challenging. And experience doesn’t make it easier. What makes it easier is staying constantly curious, and to do that, it’s important to indulge in cultural events, get outside, learn something new, or just get away from the studio. 

Finding inspiration is one of the most challenging things that designers, artists, photographers and makers have to do, in both personal and professional work. Creativity largely follows a process, but there is an element of intuition involved that cannot be defined. We call it the 80/20 rule. 80% process, 20% magic. That intangible percentage of the process is made up of creative thinking and conceptual ideas. It cannot be measured, but it can be inspired.

There are many times when the creative process grinds to a halt through lack of inspiration. All too often creatives are confined behind a screen, tapping a pencil and expecting the lightbulb moment only to be disappointed.

As an independent design studio, our days are spent letting our imaginations roam free. Yet even we sometimes feel like we’ve tried every creative technique in the book. Even for experienced designers, the challenge is no less frustrating, since it can be hard to come up with ideas that feel fresh and original after you’ve created a large portfolio.

What do Sail do when we become stuck or the blank page hits? Ideally…we would take a month off to go backpacking and soak up the scenes, people and culture in India. Newcastle will have to do.

Fortunately for us, inspiration can strike at the most random of moments, here a few small insights of how we overcome creative block.

1. Get away from the office

The most creative ideas are unlikely to strike when you’re sat behind the computer screen. Leave the desk and office behind and allow yourself time away from the project to stimulate your mind. Stay inspired, get out and open your eyes, try something new.

Go and check out a local museum or the latest exhibition in an art gallery. Wander through the shelves of the library or go and see a play in a nearby theatre. Grab a beer with your colleagues and brainstorm on paper napkins.

Often when our minds are seemingly at ‘rest’ we are at our most creative. Don’t expect to be constantly switched on. Allowing yourself time away from your projects enables ideas to ferment and the results are often unexpectedly exciting.

If you have a hobby, this is a great way to be inspired. Mandy often is found with a camera, photographing old buildings, street and more. Danielle is a talented illustrator so could be sketching up a new idea or painting a 7 foot canvas…

2. Expand your circles

Working with the same people day in and day out can have its benefits as you form a close knit team. However, the stilted atmosphere can sometimes block creative thought as certain team members may approach new projects in the same way they’ve always done.

Spend time working with other people if you can so that you benefit from the ideas of people outside of your immediate team.

Sail Creative recently wrote a blog post about the benefits of working with an independent design studio and touched on this very issue. We can draw on a pool of talented freelancers from across a wide range of talents to collaborate on different projects. By doing so, there is not shortage of ideas buzzing through our network as everyone brings their unique skills and experience to the table. This means we are constantly inspired by new people around us.

3. Listen

Listen to your clients talking. What do they say? What language do they use? How do they describe their audience, the problems they face and the challenges they solve?

More often than not, the client is able to influence and inspire more than they realise, even if they profess to having ‘no clue’ of what they want. Our role as the design agency, often working as an extension of your team, is to ask the right questions and use our experience to shape the answers into something conceptual.

Listening well and responding to the wealth of knowledge and expertise from your client can spark off initial tangents. Whether or not they can give you all pieces of the puzzle, the way they talk about their business can give you a good indication about what will suit their needs – or what will not.

Don’t be afraid to call in sections of your client’s audience to gather a well rounded picture. The more you can learn about the company, from various angles, the more material you have to work from.

Another things to listen to is TED talks. Inspiration is at your fingertips. One of our hero’s is Ken Robinson and his view of the value of creativity in education.

4. Create an environment in which creative ideas can flourish

Have a shared purpose. Create an open, safe environment in which everyone feel supported, creativity is valued, and contributions are respected. Have an environment that always strives to create better work. Create work that strives to speak to the target audience you are aiming for, not to win awards. Encourage personal and creative development, let people pursue their interests, bring them into work, create projects around them. Collaborate, cooperative, celebrate your work and ideas.

5. Write it down

Technology has allowed us to accomplish so much and can certainly play a large part in helping with research. However, there are times when a computer screen just isn’t the best medium to capture those ideas. We all know it well, the sea of the internet, you start researching and before you know it you’re off on a tangent. Try traditional methods: read and write.

Whether you are a wordsmith who prefers to write pages, or someone who jots down fragments, phrases and doodles to express your thoughts, a blank sheet of paper may be all you need to get your imagination fired up.

If all of that white space is a bit off-putting, or the thought of writing down ideas into a notebook seems a bit too permanent, try using a whiteboard. We have an inspiration board in the studio can be a place to capture our ideas, and things that we have collected. Surrounding yourselves with things that inspire you can do wonders!

6. Give ideas time to ferment

We recently shared an honest moment in our creative process when we were struck by a flash of inspiration and restarted a project from scratch. Even though the initial brief was fulfilled and our client was happy, a sudden surge of creativity hit and enabled us to see the brand identity from a completely different angle. This is what we call positive rebellion…and disruption…even if that means internal disruption for a little while!

Our biggest takeaway from this experience was that it’s ok to put ideas aside for a while and let them mature. The passage of time can effect ideas either positively or negatively, and what was once a fantastic concept can seem lacklustre in a few short weeks.

7. Always be willing to test your ideas

A good idea should be robust enough to withstand some rigorous testing. Don’t be afraid to poke holes in your ideas. If you can do so then a client and their audience will be able to as well.

8. Be prepared to answer questions

One way to put your ideas to the test is to include someone who has not being part of the creative process. Being completely unconnected to the brief and inner workings of a design studio will mean they are free to challenge you and your ideas with questions such as “why?” and “what”?

Answering these questions – however unrelated they may sometimes seem – will help you to verbalise (and then picture) the project in a different way. Gathering perspectives from other people can help tremendously with the “I hadn’t thought of that” moment.

9. Craft ideas little by little

The expectation to come up with numerous unique and compelling ideas at the drop of a hat can be overwhelming. Sooner or later, an agency producing what once seemed like an infinite pool of ideas may reduce to homogenised campaigns that have lost their originality and sparkle.

If you approach a brief little by little, the task seems a lot less daunting. A big idea is often made up of a million little pieces of stimuli: a word, colour, shape, smell, question, gesture… The combination of influences is infinite.

Adding each new element into the project as they occur means you build up the fuller picture layer by layer. All of these layers ensure your ideas are rich, full of life and well-constructed, rather than a shallow concept based on a rushed assumption.

Don’t forget – time really can help!

10. Use your imagination

We were born with an unlimited capacity to generate ideas. As children, imagination saw us creating fantastical worlds and adventure stories that entertained us for hours. Children are unashamed by their imagination and their curiosity for the world around them means they question everything.

As we age, many of us become out of practice at dreaming up ideas, yet just like a muscle it remains possible to work this back into shape. Many business leaders are successful because they come up with innovative ideas. They do so because they are not afraid to keep throwing out suggestions, taking risk or challenging a problem from as many different angles as they can. So…when a month backpacking is not doable, try and get inspired from what’s on your doorstep. We are often so close to it we miss it!

How do you generate your best creative ideas?

Inspiration can be drawn from endless sources and strike at any time. We’ve shared a few of our favourite ways to be creative, so it’s over to you. Where do your best ideas hit you? On the flip side, have you found there are times and places where you cannot focus and produce your best work?

We’d love to hear your experience on how you generate your creative ideas.

If you want to chat about all things creative and how we can put our imaginations to good use for you, drop us a line.

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