Being Creative Under Pressure

October 29, 2013 § 3 Comments

Truth is, graphic design is problem solving. Every client has a problem: they have a message they want to communicate visually, be it their brand, an advertisement for their brand, or simply a printed piece that tells a story about their brand, and they can’t do it themselves. See? A problem. People are often confused when it comes to determining the problem that needs to be solved. A lot of people (and I will repeat- A LOT of people) think that the problem exists within their ability to use a computer program. “I know exactly what I want, even to the point of knowing exactly what it looks like- in my mind. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to use Photoshop. Can you help me?”

I LOVE it when a client has a clear direction and purposeful vision in their mind (I promise that’s not a sarcastic statement). Nothing pleases me more than a conversation with a client and hearing about how passionate they are about what they do. I love sitting down with a marketer or a communications manager who knows what they want for their start-up company and has a specific vision in mind. That being said- I also appreciate a client who can identify what I do. I don’t just aimlessly play around in Photoshop until I replicate what is in their mind’s eye. I research, I explore, I develop, I solve their problem and communicate their messages visually through my creative ability. And if I do all of that correctly, we become partners, cheering on the same cause and rolling out the same coherent, well designed vision together. Problem solved.

Now unfortunately, creativity isn’t breakfast. It isn’t something on-demand (though as a professional, you should strive for it to be). When I’m hungry, I make toast, and within five minutes have solved my hunger problem. When someone asks for a logo, I open Illustrator, and within five minutes have a logo designed to perfection, solving my visual communication problem. Ah, if only it worked like that…

One of the number one things I ask from my client when designing for them is TIME. While creativity is a vital part of what I do as a designer and needs to become something I can call upon at any waking (working) moment, there are most certainly times when my creativity is flowing more abundantly than other times. Those easy creative times are great, and in those times are when I solve problems to the very best of my ability. But this blog post isn’t going to be about those times. It’s going to be about those other times, the times when creativity is asked of me and it has to be on-demand, quick, now, and under PRESSURE. How do I handle it? What do I do to utilize those times? Taken that I’ve already done my research on who the company is, what they’re about, and have on hand all of my client’s detailed notes to help guide my way- here are some ways I handle being creative under pressure.

Being Creative Under Pressure | The Finicky Designer

1. Eliminate distractions. Close your web browser (unless it’s open to great design- we’ll get to that). Put on some music (Pandora might not be the best option in this case- you don’t want to concern yourself with thumbs up or thumbs down). Get out your sketchbook and pencil. Close your eyes. Breathe. And now accept the fact that your mind is going to actively search for distractions of all sorts during this time. (Didn’t care about the dust collecting on top of your monitor before? You will now.) Decide to do your best to eliminate those distractions and to focus on the task at hand.

2. Don’t think about it. Ever watch the clock, tapping your pencil on your empty sketchpad, knowing that in a mere few hours you told your client you’d be showing them something? The WORST thing you can do right now is panic- is stress over it- is FORCE it. Don’t worry about the clock. Don’t worry about the end result. Don’t worry about the one poor concept you have floating around in your mind right now. Don’t ask yourself- What if I don’t nail it? What if the client hates it? What if I don’t capture their vision? STOP filling your head with those thoughts! If it helps to revisit your past successes, then do that. If it helps to grab your biggest fan for a compliment or two, do it. But start focusing, be confident, and stop worrying. Your worry will stifle more than just your creativity.

3. Quick! Find inspiration. I’m not going to solve any design problems staring at blank walls or poorly designed Facebook memes. One of the best ways to produce good design is to surround yourself with great design. I immediately get out my design magazines, open up a web browser to Behance and my Pinterest design board, and I fill my mind with great design. The intention isn’t to copy (obviously) or even use any sort of specific design element that I find- in fact, you’d probably never guess what I was looking at for inspiration when comparing it to my sketches. But looking through all of those designs puts my mind in a place of creativity, it gets me excited about the possibilities, and it reminds me of how beautiful the world can be (and how much more beautiful I’m about to make it).

4. Start with the basics. Are you struggling making that first mark on your paper? Try writing first. Yes, use words in your sketchbook. Write out what you think the color scheme might be, write out the shapes you’re drawn towards, write out the company’s core beliefs- don’t be afraid to WRITE. Then think about layout, page count, page size- all of the logistics. Sometimes the logistics need to get out of the way before creativity can make its appearance. Just don’t get so caught up in the logistics that they become a distraction.

5. SMILE. Yep, smile. If you’re miserable, you aren’t going to be great. So relax a little- and do what you do best. You’re creating a life-long partnership with someone, and you being the creative professional that you are, need to be a pleasant creative professional. If you’re not finding gratification in the work you do, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Well there you have it- just a few simple tips for being creative under pressure. It’s got to be one of the most difficult things I face every day. But the more I face it, the more I find out how to deal with it and what works for me as a designer. If you’re a designer or a creative, what works for you? How are you creative under pressure?

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§ 3 Responses to Being Creative Under Pressure

  • Me too, I LOVE when a client actually knows what they want and takes out all the guess work… but MOST of my clients don’t know what the heck they want… They usually say “I want it to look GREAT” or “You’re the professional! I trust you” then they don’t like what I present them with lol.

    Thanks for the tips btw. I’m a freelance artist myself and I’ve been having a similar conversation with other people about how you can’t just command creativity, you gotta nurture it! But sometimes… you just gotta do it under pressure… fun fun 😉

    • It’s true- it’s difficult to find a client with the right balance of knowing what they want and giving you creative license to do what you do best. So being we’re not in a perfect world, it’s our job to figure it out. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • […] fast. Remember my little post about time being key for a designer? Well apparently the designers these online services hire don’t need the time! Many (if not […]

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