10th October 2011

Tips for avoiding a monotonous design process.

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At some points in our design careers we, as designers, get stuck in a groove and it’s hard to get out of. Everything seems to be “that’ll do” over “that’s awesome”. It can really be a tough groove to get out of, with all creative output not cutting the mustard somehow, no matter how many times you tweak those drop shadows and textures.

The rewards for breaking the mould though are vast. Projects such as the Nike Better World website has garnered thousands of tweets, and almost as many budding developers & designers trying to recreate that effect. The holding page for Ben The Bodyguard has the whole design community becoming smitten with it. Even some of the first truly great responsive web designs, such as Hicks Design have garnered a lot of web love because they had great creativity to them.

Achieving results like these can seem like a distant dream if you’re slap bang in the middle of the deepest of design grooves. Here are some examples based on my experiences, that can help get you back on track and start chucking out great designs left, right and centre.

Change Colour Schemes

So you’re designing a corporate website? That means it’s got to be blue and white, yeah? Wrong! Try using a different colour palette, perhaps use a colour you’ve rarely used before, you never know what might happen. Psychologically we react differently to different colours. Vivid red hues are known to evoke passion in people, and that may just kickstart your design. It may not always work, but you shouldn’t be disheartened. By forcing yourself to try a new colour scheme, you may find little things you like and can take with you and adapt to create something new and fresh.

Change Location

Sitting in front of a wall at your computer isn’t exactly the most inspiring place to be. And although not all of us have amazing panoramic cityscape views to look out on (my flat looks out on to a building site and a Nando’s), moving to a different room or different place can help get the mind working again. You may thrive in a loud environment, and get inspiration sitting in the living room amongst a throng of people (depending on how many people you live with) or you may prefer to work in a serene place, free from everything other than silence and your computer. Either way, moving location to try and find the perfect place to work is really important, because usually if you’re working unhappily, it shows in the work you create.

Another option would be to venture outside to your favourite coffee shop with your laptop, for a complete change of setting. Whilst you walk there, be careful to pay great attention to the buildings, people and scenery. We usually pay very little interest to this. Try and remember the last time you looked up at the top of buildings as you walk down the street. I live in Leeds, and whilst it’s not the prettiest of towns, it has some great architecture hidden all the way up at the top. Mixing all this together with the aroma of freshly ground coffee could be a great stimulus for creativity.

Design in the Browser

This option may seem pretty daunting for many people. Fireworks or Photoshop may be the digital equivalent of a safety blanket, you’ve spent years forming a bond with it and now you’re being asked to abandon it and carry on with out. However, designing in the browser can be really liberating, as the lack of distractions is refreshing. The content really is king when designing in the browser, and things like tweaking a certain gradient a tiny bit for the sake of it becomes much less important and much less necessary.

I used to be a little sceptical about designing in the browser, but only because I was still in Fireworks mode, and creating multiple gradients for elements before everything was positioned properly. Personally, I’ve found the best way to design in the browser is to first create an advanced wireframe, placing content where you think it needs to be, and then just enhance until you’re happy with it. And for people who think designing in the browser means it can’t look good, take a look at Elliot Jay Stock’s* recent redesign, it’s beautiful!

Change Your Typography

We all know that Helvetica and Georgia go beautifully together, and so we can be forgiven for defaulting back to that chosen pairing when selecting the font stack for the design. However with the recent explosion of webfonts, thanks to services such as Typekit, Google Font API and Web Fonts from Fonts.com, we no longer have to be limited. There are some outstandingly beautiful faces out there ready to use on the web, such as Skolar, Adelle, Futura, and many more. Being creative with font stacks can dramatically change the aesthetic of a design, as well as the meaning of a design. Serifs are usually associated with a more classic typographic approach, whilst sans-serifs are more modern.

Make sure to check all aspects of typography, especially your headings. Clever things such as Kern.js and Lettering.js mean you can pay real attention to details with your headings in the design stage and carry this through to the development stage – or if you’re designing in the browser you can just add these in straight away to get pixel-perfect headings.

Next time you’re choosing font pairings for a project, really think about whether you should be using the standards, or going for something a little more creative.

Design for Mobile first.

If you’re designing a website, there’s a fairly good chance you’ll be using a grid system as an initial guide. Most web grid templates have a fixed width roughly between 900 – 1200px. If you’re designing responsively though, you’ll want templates for various sizes and resolutions. We’re so used to designing for the web at a fixed width that if you designed for the much smaller resolution of Smartphones, that your whole usual design process gets thrown out of the window. This may end up being a great thing if you’re stuck doing the same thing over and over again: a shock to the system, which enables you to see differently and think differently.

The different challenges of designing for mobile devices, such as how to best layout the content, how to keep file sizes down and how to make sure it feels intuitive to use are all catalysts for a new way of thinking creatively, rather than just thinking of whether the header should have a 1px drop shadow or a 2px drop shadow.

So, do you feel inspired yet?

I hope this mini-list has been helpful to you and if you’re currently pulling your hair out trying to get out a design funk, or if you’re been in one before and you’ve got any tips for people currently in one, let us know in the comments section below!

Check out some design inspiration:

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