Industry5 Ways to Find Inspiration When You’re Stuck in a Rut

Rachelle Dragani
writes on May 14, 2014

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(Flickr photo by Kenny Louie)

We’ve all been there.

You’re on your fourth cup of coffee, you’ve already rearranged the loose ends around your workspace, and you’re out of lives on Candy Crush. Maybe you’ve even color-coordinated your closet or baked some banana bread. And still nothing. No ideas, zero spark, rapidly declining motivation — and a looming deadline.

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An inspiration dry spell doesn’t mean you’re a failure or not cutout for the field. Those ruts happen to the best and the brightest in the industry. It just means you need to jumpstart your creative juices. We talked to some web designers and developers — many of them Treehouse subscribers — with years of experience under their belts and asked them what they do when they’re just plain stuck. Here are some of the most common responses.

1. Out With the Old

There might be a reason you’ve been staring at an existing project without any clue how to move forward. Part of your brain might be telling you the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve already put in aren’t going to be the blood, sweat, and tears that make it into the final product. Starting from scratch is daunting, but sometimes it’s the only option, says Ryder Carroll, a web designer and creator of the Bullet Journal.

“Rather than spinning your wheels, knock out a few totally different solutions until something gains traction,” he tells Treehouse. “Sometimes the best way to move forward is simply ejecting the obstacle. My design philosophy is that every element must fight for its life to make it into the final product.”

2. Look to the Pros

Sara Soueidan

Sara Soueidan

Recently, Pinterest has received all the credit for making Marthas out of even the most right-brained among us. When you’re working on a big project, though, don’t turn to sites built to inspire the mainstream consumer — go straight to the industry’s best. Several designers and developers told us they love browsing portfolios from other people working in the field. One way to do this is to simply search topics such as “Webby Awards” or some of the names of your favorite designers and developers.

Some options:

* Dribble is a great example, giving users a peek at some of the latest work from all varieties of web designers.

* Delicious.com allows users to discover, store, and share bookmarks based on all types of topics, including design and creativity.

* Usepanda.com can act as a more customized version of all that storing and sharing of design inspiration.

Scott Vrable

Scott Vrable

Another great resource is Codepen. As Sara Soueidan, a freelance front-end developer says, “What’s special about Codepen is that you get to see code, which means that you get to see the techniques behind the code. Sometimes you learn something new and decide to share it with others, or just improve your own skills in it, and sometimes you see something you already know but never thought of writing about.”

3. Go Way Back

Scott Vrable, a web designer and developer, is particularly jealous of the next generation.

“There’s no one I’m more envious of than young children and their seemingly effortless creativity and innovation. This includes my younger self,” he notes.

Vrable has picked through some of his old drawings and childhood projects his mom had kept, and translated a drawing of his from age 5 into a logo he recently designed.

Scott Vrable's logo inspired by a childhood drawing.

Scott Vrable’s logo inspired by a childhood drawing.

If you have the opportunity to take a glimpse at your younger creative self, it could spark an idea that your older brain might have shut down before it had time to materialize. Even if your mom didn’t save your early masterpieces, though, it could be time to try to think back to your early years. Clear your mind and remember some of your wildest daydreams, ambitions, tall tales, or imaginative games you used to play while younger. One of those memories might help you (re)dream a fantastic idea for a current project.

4. Read

Usually, it just takes a tiny nugget of information to spark an idea, and it’s tough to find that hidden nugget without reading. Search for articles, blog posts, or even tweets about code or design, even if they’re far outside your comfort zone.

“Dig into other people’s code,” Soueidan says. “Sometimes reading a large piece of code can be overwhelming, but if you end up learning one single small thing, that’s an important step forward.”

5. Don’t Think Big Picture

Alexandra White

Alexandra White

Sure, a little perspective is normally a good thing. But when you’re trying to tackle a massive project and it’s bringing you down, it’s better to break it into smaller pieces. As Alexandra White, designer at Designing Lightning puts it, “I get the satisfaction and the reward of completing something, and stave off the overwhelming feeling.”

White suggested making a to-do list of the several parts of a bigger goal. Being able to check off a chunk of tasks will make any project seem more manageable.

Above all, listen to yourself. Whether the ideas are buried deep inside the recesses of your brain or need to be found in a new environment, they’re your ideas and you know what to do with them.

Now put down the coffee and the Candy Crush and go for it.

3 Responses to “5 Ways to Find Inspiration When You’re Stuck in a Rut”

  1. I’m totally tired of web design, I tried to learn more but I can’t. Now I realized that the moral thing is our biggest problem.

  2. What the heck is a “Martha”?

  3. Teach me more Bout – Treehouse-immediately+.

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