When I first stepped out into the real world as a creative professional, my college diploma and senior portfolio under my arm, I soon encountered the Client. We experienced some client interaction in school — mostly in the form of competing against classmates to have our logo chosen for a local non-profit — but nothing like the puppet-string-pulling, morale-killing, i’m-paying-you-that’s-why encounters that would soon drain me completely of my creative spirit. While there are some really great clients out there who will give us designers the freedom we require, we must still rely on the difficult clients to make ends meet, especially when starting out. Since graduating from design school ten years ago, I’ve developed a few useful methods for fighting off creative burnout.
1. Fill the tank
Graphic design is a form of output, taking client concepts and turning them into visual messages. This type of creative output requires fuel, from an infinite number of sources, and unless we are constantly filling our minds with images, words, and sounds, our creativity will run dry. A good designer will look outside of the design community for this inspiration — books, music, museums, speeches, travels; any person, place, or thing that stirs the creative soul. What does this look like in practice? Snap photos, save magazine clippings, copy inspiring passages from books, put on the headphones and close your eyes for an hour. Just soak it all in. My recent inspirations have come from reading fiction and bending down to see the world from the perspective of my one-year-old.
2. Always be ready
It is difficult for designers to ‘turn on’ creativity. The Muses simply refuse to be restrained (personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way). There is no steady stream of creative ideas bubbling out from some eternal spring. Instead, we have to settle for the highs and lows of inspiration, and be ready to capture the unexpected highs when they strike. The eight-hour workday can be problematic for the designer, for this very reason. A designer should have a flexible schedule, one that allows her to stay up all night after a concept gelled during desert. My personal tip: sleep with a pencil, sketchbook, and headlamp on the nightstand (yes, I’ve cranked out logo designs at 2am).
3. Pursue your passions
No matter how gracious the client, design projects will always be exercises in using your skills to represent someone else’s message. What about your message? We all have something we are passionate about. Keep your creativity alive by using it to pursue your personal interests. Drawing, painting, writing, any kind of creative work, without a client looking over your shoulder, gives you a creative outlet for countering the day-to-day professional work. Another way to release some creative steam is to align yourself with a local non-profit you believe in. They will be very thankful for the help and give you a lot of creative room; and your work will go to a good cause. On most evenings and lazy weekends, I find myself writing in my journal and designing shirts for non-profits.
What tips do you have on surviving as a creative?
Definitely number 1 is a great thing to point out. As designers, we have to look outside of design blogs and magazines and have other interests. The best designs are unanimously inspired by things outside of pure design. Something to look for when you do look at design work
I agree wholeheartedly w/ the need to disengage from work-mode in order to recharge the creative mind. I often find myself so focused on the tasks at hand that I neglect taking time to do the things that I enjoy above all else. I love my work and it is a necessary part of life, but it can also be a distraction from the things that really matter.