A large number of designers set themselves up for failure by trying to push the creative envelope. Its not that the notion is inherently wrong; its just that it doesnt provide anything firm to rail against. Ingenuity as a designer is best tapped when we are asked to resolve some kind of challenge.
Some will search for the ultimate creative concept, something wildly different, or perhaps an idea that shows just how clever they are. As a designer, this is all largely pointless. Instead we should look for the problem that design can solve. This narrows our focus and brings with it <a greater probability of success. So, instead of trying to push the limits of the web, and that sort of thing, perhaps one has to instead concentrate on why the clients current website isnt building greater brand-loyalty.
If you havent found the problem, theres a high likelihood that your creative solution is simply poppycock.
Dont be so smart
Having worked as a painter for some time, I often found myself looking for a way to build something unorthodox. I wanted to cover new ground and this often meant mixing styles, treatments, concepts, metaphors, and anything else I could chuck at it in hopes that Id stumble upon the next Cubism (or any of those other isms). While I aimed for something brilliant and inspired, I was typically left with a hodge-podge of half-baked ideas.
Your project doesnt have to do everything. It doesnt have to win awards, make you look good, or have a wry subtext. Getting something simple to work is hard enough. Concentrate on the basics, and see if your idea holds up when shown to the audience. Those brilliant concepts that need to be explained because they are so smart? They belong in museums, not in design projects.
Theres little I despise as much as a thievery of others ideas. That being said, no one creates in a vacuum. So, while I would never espouse copying the work of another, I do strongly believe in being a cultural sponge and carefully examining the work of others.
An example of this would be in our efforts to define a clients business as being akin to a luxury brand. I asked our designers to research the treatments, themes, typography and the general approach of companies from other sectors with similar goals. From this, we learned a visual dialect of sorts that we later could apply or diverge from as it suited the project.
My point is that we dont have to invent everything; instead, we should concentrate on building our visual literacy.
Set the bar higher
We often get so busy playing catch-up, that we repress our ability to do the spectacular. The best example I have of this is the skiing analogy that Ive heard (and repeated) so many times over the years. If you are skiing with people who match your speed, youll stay there; whereas, if you ski with those a little better, youll improve to match their abilities.
Dont try to be as good as; push yourself further than may seem possible. If you have to pitch for a local project, present as though you were aiming to land a national account. Trying to come up with one good name for a client? Brainstorm five-hundred and pick from the best. Want to be a good designer? Find a great one and start to think of her/him as your competitor.
Make, save, compare
Tunnel-vision is a deadly curse to all of us who create visual things. We typically start with a general idea, and as it comes to life, we become increasingly focused on the details. Of course, its good to pay attention to the small stuff, but it does tend to blind us to the pitfalls and obstacles around us.
Early in my career I found the magic of versioning, and its a powerful device. As early as possible, start to save copies of your work, numbered sequentially. Once you have enough of these, you can view them collectively. The ability to quickly scan them will afford you insight to whats working and whats not.
The beauty of this method is that it takes the permanence of your decisions out of the way, allowing you to move quickly and compare results. Unsure of how to crop the image? Make a few of them, place them side-by-side. Ill bet youll find the answer is easier to come by as a result, if not completely obvious.
Until theres something on the page, youre nowhere. An enormous challenge for most creatives is the fear of the blank sheet of paper. Get over this as quickly as you can. Stop pondering and just get started.
Kinetic activity is infections. Just moving, making marks, being active gives you the sensation of making progress. Once you have a dozen sheets of sketches (even if they are bad), the creative log jam is broken. Youll have ideas to measure, assess and compare. New ideas will start to jump in your lap. Better yet, the project will become embedded in you subconscious, which allows the situation to percolate, potentially leading to one of those Eureka! moments in the shower.
Just get started and magic can happen.
Well, those are a few. Needless to say, there are many more, but if you are feeling a little jammed up, one or two of these might help.