Six Design Exercises to Help You Spark Creativity and Stop Staring at Your Computer

Design

Seth Benson

Creativity can be a flake of a friend. Sometimes it shows up uninvited, in the middle of the night. Other times, when you desperately need to get ahold of it, it’s nowhere to be found.  

When creativity is playing hard-to-get in the middle of a design project, sometimes it helps to step away from your comfort zone and try something different. Here are some ideas to get your design wheels spinning.

1. Save your ideas.

First things first, build a library of ideas. Carry a notebook, open a Pinterest account or keep a Evernote tab on your phone. Save ideas and inspiration whenever they come to you and refer back to them when you’re feeling stuck.

2. Get physical.

Choose a physical product, like a car or a kitchen appliance that has gone through many iterations over the years and list which updates were made, the problem each addressed and how successfully they were solved. The list doesn’t need to be comprehensive. The idea is to get you thinking about design in a tangible way.

3. Be more accessible.

As many as 20% of your users deal with a disability that could affect the ways they’re able to experience and interact with your website, app or emails. Remove one of your senses. Blindfold yourself. Don some earplugs. Sit on your hands. And think about how your experience changes based on your new limitations. Learn about the devices people with disabilities use to consume digital content. Then identify accessibility barriers on one of your brand’s web pages or emails, and redesign it to be more accessible.

4. Explore the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Find a web page, an app or an email that you love, and another one you hate. Strip away the bells, whistles and pretty wallpaper to create a wireframe for each. Compare the layouts and user flows. Identify precisely the moments that delight you and the ones that frustrate you.

5. Play telephone.

Get together with a designer friend or two. Establish an action or goal for a hypothetical user, and step by step, take turns building a user path for accomplishing this goal via a simple website, email campaign or app experience. Don’t talk or explain decisions while participating in the exercise. When you’re finished, talk about what surprised the group, why each participant did what they did and what they would do differently a second time or with more information.

6. Limit your toolbox.

Omit color. Don’t use images. Establish that text blocks cannot exceed a set number of words. Use these limitations to craft a unique and minimalist experience, focusing on building a clear user journey.

 

For even more inspiration, we asked the TrendyMinds designers one question: What’s an exercise you do — away from your computer — to help spark creative design ideas?

Here’s what we said.

Seth Benson, VP, UI/UX Design

I keep a stack of 5x7 notecards on my desk that I use throughout the day as my disposable idea bucket. Most of the time I’ll use these for quick wireframe or layout concepting. Sometimes they turn into lists, and sometimes they’re just quick doodles. They always give me a little break from my computer, though, that’s just long enough to get an idea out and back into the flow of things. My desk kind of looks pretty crazy at all times, but it works for me. 

Lori Ludwig, Designer

I typically go outside for a walk or go for a run. Doing something that is the complete opposite helps me to reset my brain and come back to the project with fresh ideas. I’ll also reach out to other designers, which helps to get a new set of eyes on it. People see things from all different sides, so it’s always nice to get a new perspective.

Suzanne McGill, Designer

I would definitely say something I always do during the creative process is sketching. I usually use it in the beginning of any design process and also whenever I hit a wall.

Jordan Brewer, UI/UX Designer

I like to stay close to a project when I need to spark new ideas. I start with making lists — I love lists — to redefine the parameters and get back to square one. From there I simply create more lists and mull over the information until I find alternate ways to approach the problem at hand. Not too glamorous, but it keeps me in the zone. If my lists don’t work I like to get away and chat with people about anything. As a verbal processor, something magical happens when I’m talking - I could be talking about anything, and the problem tends to solve itself while I subconsciously mull it over.

Daniel Luke, UI/UX Designer

Sometimes, I will go out and do something outside like running or skateboarding to take a mental break and come back to a project with a fresh mindset. Other times, I will go to a bookstore and grab all the books that look interesting and drink coffee and jot down every idea that comes to mind. 

Jess Bradway, Jr. Designer

I try to look for inspiration in other places, whether it be in magazines, on Pinterest taking a walk outside or looking at work from other designers. Other times, I may sit down with a paper and a pen and just sketch out things until an idea sparks.


For more ideas on expanding your creative horizons, check out How Improv Class Taught Us About Smarter Marketing.

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