Get off the Computer

leaveTheScreenbOne of the best pieces of advice for a creative block.

As a designer, I get stuck in a design rut all too often. My usual go-to solution is to surf some of my favorite design blogs, hoping to feel the strike of inspiration that will solidify my idea into a design. Yet, it often doesn’t happen. So, what’s the next most obvious thing? GET OFF THE COMPUTER.

Get off the computer, away from Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and everything else on the Internet. Leave the screen.

Last summer in June 2013 I had the fortunate pleasure of attending the HOW Design Live conference in San Francisco and a number of speakers’ messages really resonated with me. Jessica Walsh and Austin Kleon had one message – get off the computer, away from the screen.

Jessica Walsh

Jessica Walsh, a formidable graphic designer for Sagmeister and Walsh, has often described her job as play rather than work. She thrives in experimentation, the unknown, yet this creative freedom to her is play. Her work often incorporates a 3D element that forces her to confront artistic and design challenges away from the computer screen.

One of her examples, one that yielded a simple yet elegant solution was for the retail pop-up store/gallery, Story.

Jessica was asked to develop a brand identity for the pop-up and when she was having some trouble creatively she went to the simple old stand by – pen and paper. She wrote the word “story” and started folding the paper, trying out different configurations. She ripped the paper in half and her solution appeared. Slicing the “O” in “STORY” in half, created what looked like two brackets. The two brackets created a holding place for the changing “story” the pop-up shop wanted to share.

Story_small       StoryStore4_1


The store embraced the serendipitous find and the brackets became part of the store identity.


Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon was the keynote speaker at HOW Design Live 2013 and he left an impression on me. Austin described himself as artist and a writer and I liked Austin’s serious yet simple approach to his work and practice.

He is known for Newspaper Blackout a book featuring hundreds of poems he’s created using a method of creating negative space by blacking out words.


How did he stumble on this simple, yet solid idea? Every morning he’d read the morning paper during breakfast and one morning he found himself with a sharpie in hand and began crossing out words and phrases. Suddenly he had poems from the news. Here’s his recipe:

Grab a newspaper.
Grab a marker.
Find an article.
Cross out words, leaving behind the ones you like.
Pretty soon you’ll have a poem.

And after numerous mornings with a marker and newspaper, he had a book.

newspaper blackout cover

One of my solutions

This summer I was working on a project and I found myself in a creative rut. I was designing a concept piece for a festival Art Car that was going to be a zeppelin. The blimp section was going to have LED lights strung in some formation and I needed to figure out how this pattern might take form. The only creative direction I was given was the pattern should resemble the Fibonacci Golden Spiral.

Being that the concept art was a stationary 2D piece I wanted to give the Art Car some movement, and this was proving to be more difficult than I thought. So after days stuck in Photoshop, and sifting through images and blogs on the web I finally just pulled out some good ole’ pens and paper and began to draw. I knew the general blimp shape was going to be similar to an egg.


This is where I ended up. The spiral starts from point of the blimp and just from pure freehand sketching I drew these threads that organically trailed off from the blimp. Afterwards I scanned the drawing, imported it into Adobe Illustrator, traced it, manipulated the stroke and color and had my blimp lights. Total time from when I started drawing was probably 30 minutes vs days that I’d been toiling around in Photoshop.

So after a few color variations and layering this was where I ended up.


Drawing on paper instead of a screen?

Obviously this is not an unusual or novel approach to making work and finding creativity but I do find it surprising how easy it is to forget this simple tactic when I’m stuck in a creative rut. The Internet is limitless, and so I think there’s always inspiration out there (and there is), we just get bombarded and over saturated.

I love this approach so much because it’s so rudimentary and simple.

Just get off the computer and go back to the basics. 

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