Simple Ways To Make More Creative Designs

Almost every designer wants to be more creative. To make more creative designs. But as you’re well aware of, creativity is a finicky thing – you can’t just be creative at will. Yet some designers just seem to be more creative, more consistently, than others.

How de they do it? Well, one way to easily make more creative designs is to set creative limits on yourself. Doing so can really help you be creative more consistently.

While this idea might seem wacky, it’s true and it really works. Keep reading to find out how setting creative limits can actually help you create much more creative designs.

Too Many Options Is a Bad Thing

Too Many Options Is A Bad Thing

Some of you might be thinking: setting limits helps creativity? There should be less limitations so that the sky’s the limit. Right?

It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true: setting limits helps creativity.

See, when you have the option to do anything, you end up doing nothing. It’s indecision paralysis. Notice how in a grocery store it’s really tough to decide between 10 brands of peanut butter? The situation is no different for creative work like design. If you can decide to create anything, you’ll have a really tough time deciding what to start with.

Even after you choose a direction or style for your design, because that choice itself was so huge you end up playing it safe. Out of hundreds or thousands of possibilities, the direction you chose with your design seems so specific enough that you feel you don’t need to do anything more with it – other than sticking to that style’s standard, seen-a-thousand-times template.

Similar to a music artist having an album that samples all sorts of genres – it’s already so far reaching that each tune is basically a genre exercise. It’s already an accomplishment to pick all these different genres, that the creative capacity is peaked and the artist just creates the tune in the standard style of that genre.

Why Setting Limits Helps Creativity

Setting Limits Helps Creativity

When you have less choices, it’s easier to pick an option and just get started. That’s the psychology of choice at work – less is more. And with designing, it also becomes easier to get more creative.

You don’t have to think very hard on how to get started, so your creative energy is still fairly full. Maybe it’s a specific layout for a banner or page, or a style and structure for a website. The skeleton of the design is already there for you to get to work with.

Therefore, you only really start using your creative energy once it’s time to get to designing. Since your creativity is so fresh, you can put your all into coming up with some inventive and fresh ideas within the design. Maybe it’s the way the text is displayed, or how you use a texture, or using an effect in a creative way, or an exciting color combination.

You also work harder to be more creative. You know that if you don’t do anything extraordinary with what you have, your design will end up looking like all the others of that style. So you get motivated to make your design stand out (it works for me).

Since you have such little wiggle room within the limitations, you’ll need to think outside the box (or better yet, imagine the box isn’t even there) to make that happen. And that’s when you start making more creative designs.

How to Set Creative Limits for Yourself

How to Set Creative Limits for Yourself

Here’s an example of how you can go about setting a creative limit for yourself:

  1. Stick to the most popular and proven layout, arrangement, or structure for that style
  2. Use only 2 or 3 colors as your color scheme
  3. Don’t use any effects and filters other than your single favorite one
  4. Keep a site design within a certain size (640×480 for example)
  5. Only use vectors – no textures allowed

Basically, you’re self-imposing creative limitations on yourself, so you can only work within certain guidelines for your design. The more specific you set your limitations, the more creative you’ll end up being with certain aspects of your design. Again, the reason is that since you have less to work with, you’ll dig deeper within the aspects you do have to work with.

This is very similar to how many music artists stick to the pop song format, yet they find creative ways to subvert it and add new and exciting spins to transitions, beats or melodies, the delivery, or anything else.

Your Clients Can Set Positive Creative Limits

Your Clients Can Set Positive Creative Limits

Sometimes, the work is already done for you. A client wants a visual design with very specific guidelines or of a particular style. Or the website needs to fit some rigid requirements.

Again, while that may seem limiting in a bad way, you might have noticed that you ended up getting the design finished a lot quicker. And you had the opportunity to be creative in a very specific way. The artist inside you didn’t let you simply churn out a functional design with no soul and creative edge.

Within the header, you found a way to arrange the logo and text in a unique way, or the border of the widget boxes gives a cool shadowed or three-dimensional look. Or even the header text itself is something fresh, with you customizing the font or adding a certain gradient. I could go on and on, but you get the idea ;)

Easily Make More Creative Designs

Easily Make More Creative Designs

When you set limits, you’re pushing the edges of what you’re doing. You don’t have to decide how to structure something or what color scheme to use, so you put your energy on what you can do that’s exciting and unique within that. Since otherwise your design will look like a boring standard version of that style. And the artist inside you refuses to let that happen.

It’s in those small pockets of moments that you come up with something inventive. And those unique details is what will make your designs more creative. By setting creative limitations for yourself on a regular basis, you’ll help yourself to be more creative on a regular basis.

Your Turn To Talk

How has setting limitations helped you to make more creative designs? And/or how have client guidelines helped you to deliver more creative designs to them?

Comments

  1. says

    I totally agree here.

    I think this is why a solid design brief works well with a client not only does it ease up the creative pressure and allow you to work freely but you also know what the client is expecting so those limits usually let you exceed there expectations while still giving them what they want.

  2. says

    I find creative limits useful when writing but this article made me realize that it could work for web design too! :)

    Who would’ve thought that err… “picky” clients are actually a good thing in that they also give you creative limits. The only problem is extracting the “limits” from them in a more comprehensible form. That should be part of a designer’s skill too.

  3. says

    Oleg, thanks for the post.
    I run a startup and we make software for web-designers. Many other companies do what we are doing but we are mainly ignoring competition because looking at them we would kill our creativity.

    My advice to many designers would be to not observe too much what other designers are doing and simply focus on themselves.

    We wrote a post about this a while ago. It’s for the software business but you can basically apply it to many other sectors. You can check it at http://bit.ly/crecompet

  4. Amanadriano says

    I like the idea, i experienced something like this before i just didn’t gave it much thought i guess. Thak you

  5. Anonymous says

    When you set limits, you’re pushing the edges of what you’re doing. — I love your line!

    I totally relate with this article. Less is more. Setting limitations has really helped me in my creativity. I am often times in the lookout for creative designs for my cards and whatnot. Whenever I look at other websites for various inspiration, I end up not doing anything at all. I feel exhausted from scourging the web, and trying to think how am I gonna do this and that. In the end, I have actually given up.

    Buuut, on the other hand, whenever I think ahead of what design I am actually going to do for a specific scenario, I am actually setting a limitation. Then when the time comes to put the creativity into action, I surprise myself with my out of the box thinking! From that simple restriction, I am creating something even more amazing! Can you believe that?

    And oh yeah, do not forget to appreciate your own creativity. Let us not compare our art from that of other people’s. It might help to look at others’ work for inspiration. We all work differently and have our own level of expertise. I learned to be really patient with myself.

    Believe in yourself! :)

  6. says

    The biggest limitation to creativity is when you don’t know how to use the tools to create creative things. Who cares if you have a deep well of ideas lurking in your brain when you cant transfer them from your head into Photoshop because you dont know how to use Photoshop well.

  7. says

    Wow, and I totally relate with what both you and the author said! We might be all apart and don’t know each other, but the same thing and thoughs occur! =D

  8. says

    Great article. Never thought about being creative in this way and now have a completely different preception, great advice. Thanks

  9. says

    wow seriously I haven’t thought of it like that but that is so true. This happens to me almost all the time. I will definitely try out this technique on my next project. good read, thank you.

  10. says

    When I was in design school, they had us do lots of thumbnail sketches. I remember doing something like 62 thumbnails for one ad for strawberry sorbet, and it really made me push the boundaries of what I thought a strawberry-sorbet ad could look like.

    So in the hope of getting myself back to that discipline, I’ll recommend it to you. (I also bought an iPad for that reason.) Start every project with 25-100 thumbnails for the main concept – whether it’s a home page, a brochure cover or a theme graphic. It’s probably a theme graphic and then some sort of cover/home-page/header design. In fact, if it’s a big project, you’ll have all those elements, and the design should carry over to all those uses.

    So, you and me – all of us – let’s make a deal: thumbnails! And if you don’t have or want an iPad, a pad of tracing paper and a fine-point marker works just as well – total investment under USD$12.

    The key: do them fast, and experiment. Make your subject big. Make it small.

  11. says

    Great idea – it reminds me quite a bit of going to college. I try to apply some sort of extra limitation to my designs whenever I do client work. I basically make an “assignment” out of each project and set up a checklist of limitations and expectations. Whenever I do a thumbnail sketch for that project, I “grade” myself against my checklist to see how well it fits the mold, then I roll with my three best thumbnails until the client is pleased. It’s a good template.

  12. says

    This was definitely an eye opener…I’ve had the extreme creativity with limitations happen before and because I’m primarily self-taught, I thought maybe my approach was wrong and have tried that “all doors open” type of approach and it has definitely taken way longer, been more frustrating than limitations. Now what I do is while I’m working on something, I make myself commit (a certain color scheme, or layout) and try not to see how i can be creative with “everything”.
    Kick ass article!! Thanks! (=^_^=)

  13. Zeanv says

    So true, Oleg. I can relate to the frustration of not being able to come up with anything when I try to put in everything to my design ideas. I greatly see the effectiveness and efficiency of clearly defining your design scope. Thanks for articulating this concept to all of us.

  14. says

    Thanks for this! I often experience the paralysis of too many options and it’s nice to know that a) I’m not alone in that experience and b) you have provided some very helpful options to consider.

  15. Michael @ Project Center says

    Hi there! First off, great post! I find that it’s easy to underestimate clients. Sometimes you go with the traditional “professional” look because you’re afraid your creative designs will be too edgy, but it’s been my experience that clients often WANT you to push the envelope. Perhaps their website is full of bland, uninspired designs — but it’s not because they LIKE it that way, but rather because they haven’t had access to anything else. It’s always important to remember that clients come to you for your expertise. Be unafraid to experiment, push the boundaries, and create a few different mock-ups for your clients’ consideration. You just might be surprised by which ones they choose!

  16. says

    well this is a nice thought about setting limits I didnt cared about setting limits before and most of the time I end up with too many variations as more thoughts come in my mind I keep applying them and making variations.

  17. says

    There are a lot of pitfalls during the developement process of a website I can tell you! This article is really good and gave me a lot of “Ohhh yes, that’s right, I swear I won’t do that again!!!”-moments. Allthough it is a very hard task for me to calm down right at the beginning of a project because I had all the mistakes I did during the last project in mind…

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