Your fourth client this week just sent you the exact same rustic wedding invitations that have been trending on Pinterest, and you explain for a fourth time that no, you can’t just copy that design. You promise to create something with the same ‘vibe’ that they’ll love just as much. Now what?!

Every designer has moments like these when their creativity is stretched painfully thin. How do you come up with creative ideas when everyone wants the same thing?

Each of the following steps are crucial in the creative process, and any one of them can help break through stale ideas. We explain how you can approach them.

1) Look Outward for Inspiration


The first thing that is needed in the creative process is inspiration, and that won’t always come from the client’s brief. Some of the best inspiration comes from things outside the area of what you are working on: consider browsing book covers or packaging designs, wallpaper or fabric, greeting cards or movie posters. These can all be sources of inspiration whether you’re working on a wedding invitation or a website header. Sometimes the best way to break from the pack is by bringing inspiration from somewhere else.

2) Keep Learning New Skills

Building your repertoire of skills is key to keeping the creativity flowing. This is not just a matter of directly applying new skills to your work: new skills help you see things afresh and to understand relationships between things differently. Improving existing skills and gaining new ones allows you to think in new and creative ways. Whether you go back to school, watch some instructional YouTube videos or just practice something out of your comfort zone, this is a big part of stimulating new ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s something closely related to your work (typography, calligraphy, illustration, photography), something loosely related (sketching, fashion design, screen printing) or something completely different (building, juggling, a new language, an instrument), learning a new skill keeps your brain sharp and helps you be more creative across the board.

3) Collaborate


Having a team to bounce ideas off and to be inspired by can make an enormous difference in the creative process, bringing a diversity of perspectives to problem solving. Whether this is a team of colleagues, friends in the industry, or just a friend or partner, collaboration allows two ore more different creative minds to work in tandem and create something brand new. This works on different levels depending who you work with: if it’s another professional you are able to engage on a more technical level, but if it’s a layperson they likely think in such a different way and will bring something totally new to the table. Both are valuable.

4) Freetime = Freedom (Creatively, speaking)


It can be tough to work creatively when you are caught up in the back-end grind of business. Moving from supply chain logistics and client liaison to creative design work is far from conducive to a positive flow of ideas. For the average freelancer, this means careful time management to get administrative tasks done and take a break before coming back to create. Striking a workable balance is one of the most difficult things about being a freelance designer.

Make sure you know what times of day work best for you and establish a plan that allows you to get the fiddly work out of the way at a separate time so that you can have space to think creatively without distraction. This could mean having an admin day once a week or an hour or two each day to deal with these things, or it could mean doing admin work in a separate location to where you do creative work.

5) Always Seek Out Positive Feedback About Your Work

Having work received in a positive way inspires more high quality work. Without a positive feedback loop, it can be extremely difficult to carry momentum from one project to the next. For a freelancer, without the structure of management to help with this, that might mean follow-up emails with clients or working to get your designs seen on social media. It might also mean holding on to positive feedback in a document or even on a pin board near your workspace to keep you motivated and confident. Either way, make sure genuine encouragement is front and centre, especially instances where you were praised for your creative problem solving and good ideas. It might sound silly, but the psychological effect can be profound.



Maddison Wallace is a designer working for Paperlust, a design marketplace with a major focus on supporting Australia's independent designers.