Switching Off: How Not Designing Can Make You a Better Designer

Switching Off: How Not Designing Can Make You a Better Designer
By Rose Arenas | September 6, 2017
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Like most designers, I don’t really have an OFF switch. My mind is a constant flurry of movement, seeking inspiration or trying something new to spark the next great idea. I am always looking to improve the designed world around me and use my experiences to help our clients put their best design foot forward.

But constantly being ON does have its downsides; if not dealt with correctly, it can have a drastic effect on creativity and growth as a designer. Fortunately, this can be avoided simply by stepping away and refocusing on another completely different task.

Having a hobby or activity outside of work that isn’t strictly design-focused can actually help designers and creatives grow to become even better innovators of ideas.

But how? How can NOT designing make you a stronger designer?

Stay creativity fresh

It’s very simple to get into a habit of working long hours sitting behind a desk in the same space. But in a field where new, innovative ideas are essential, repetition can be detrimental. By engaging in other activities, you can refocus your mind elsewhere, and it opens you up to new ideas and insights you may not have necessarily gotten sitting alone behind a desk.

I’ve always loved comic books and for fun I draw my own series. It’s a hobby I’ve been engaged in for years, and recently I’ve taken to printing the series and selling the books at comic conventions. By stepping out from behind my drawing desk and actually vending at shows, not only have I traveled to new places but I’ve also met a ton of interesting professionals and learned from them. My growth - not only as an artist, but as a person - has expanded beyond what I thought was possible.

Try repurposing your energy into something refreshing and different that still allows you to scratch that creative itch. Whether it’s something totally different or similar to what you do day-to-day, the ability to break away is a key essential to expanding your knowledge base and becoming a more creative person in general.

Practice holding yourself accountable

Unforeseen events are part of the profession, and no project is perfect. Missed deadlines and pushed-back project dates happen, but being on time is really important for me as a designer. By keeping things on schedule, it helps me plan my week and keeps me from becoming overloaded with other projects, which can easily have its own negative consequences.

I practice this also through my comic hobby. The comic cons at which I vendor have strict deadlines, and if I don’t plan ahead I can find myself woefully unprepared. I plan creative for my social media, my personal website and my comic website, and I’m also responsible for weekly updates, not to mention finishing pages of my books. All of this must happen well in advance of the show. If I didn’t hold myself accountable I would end up showing up without enough products to sell or neglecting letting people know where I was going to be in the first place.

Whether it’s with your hobbies or any other activities, holding yourself accountable to your responsibilities outside of work will help you develop discipline. Create a reasonable schedule (that you can stick to!) This can help you practice pacing yourself and hit deadlines with less stress. In the long run, having this kind of discipline will carry over to your professional design career.

Avoiding designer burnout

The worst side effect of constantly being ON is that you’re at a much higher risk for burnout. I’m one of the lucky ones – I love my job and I love my work. I take great pride and satisfaction in what I do and I’m guilty of wanting to do it all day, every day. Many of my designer colleagues are in the same boat. Still, I recognize that this mentality can easily lead to stress and the dreaded designer burnout.

We’ve all experienced it; the moment when we’ve got nothing left to give but keep trying anyway. At best, your projects will turn out “just OK.” At worst, burnout can fester and zap you of your creative stamina, making it extremely difficult to cultivate ideas.

The best way to deal with burnout is by working hard to prevent it from happening in the first place. That may mean forcing yourself to turn away and make time to mentally recharge, even if it’s just for a short while. If you start to feel (or already feel) the onset of designer burnout, it’s time to take a breather.

The last time I felt close to designer burnout, I was able to recognize the symptoms and started to plan some “unwind” time – for me that was a mountain biking trip with an old friend. It was early fall and the changing leaves on the trees looked ablaze, bursting with bright reds, yellows and oranges. The tranquility and beauty of nature was not only the refreshing break I needed but also the perfect inspiration for a design project I was struggling to tackle at the time.

Whether it’s reconnecting with nature, reading a good book or any other activity that brings you joy, take yourself out of your day-to-day and give your mind a break. Even something as simple as stepping away from your desk and taking a walk around the block can be enough to help clear your mind and allow you to work through different possibilities, ideas or solutions.

Designers and creatives can’t hit the OFF button in their brain, and that’s okay. What we can do is use a dimmer switch so that we’re able to always be creative and open to inspiration but in a way that allows our minds time to rest and reset. Having hobbies and discipline (with breaks along the way to recharge) helps us to stay ON all the time without being so bright that we burn ourselves out.

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