Creative Blocks

Your constantly-updated definition of Creative Blocks and collection of videos and articles

What are Creative Blocks?

Creative blocks are periods of reduced creative thinking and productivity. Such blocks can occur at any stage of a project. During these, designers experience difficulties in generating fresh ideas or executing existing ideas creatively. However, they can take a variety of approaches to overcome such blocks.

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‍Why Do Creative Blocks Happen?

As a user experience (UX) designer, you’ll be no stranger to the phenomenon of creative blocks. These are frustrating periods of decreased inspiration and inability to generate new ideas. As parts of real life, they can hinder your design process and impact your overall productivity. Be assured, though: creative blocks aren’t uncommon in creative fields. Moreover, you have a wealth of effective strategies to overcome them and get back to creating designs that are inspired, user-friendly, and much more.

Any creativity block can sap your time and energy. That’s particularly relevant in design work since it revolves around creativity and iterative design processes. The apparent impasse a block can cause can feel like a massive threat to your service or product design plans. Still, when you understand the root causes of creative blocks, you can develop effective strategies to overcome them and reach innovative design solutions. While the specific triggers may vary from person to person, there are some common factors and causes. A few of these are:

1. Mental Health

Anxiety, for example, can significantly impact your creative abilities. Feelings of restlessness, lack of confidence, and a racing mind are obstacles. They can distract you from focusing on your work and hinder your creative flow.

2. Depleted Energy Levels

Physical and mental exhaustion can leave you feeling drained and lethargic. In that condition, you’ll find it hard to tap into your creative potential. It’s bad enough when fatigue strikes, but consider how you live in general, too. For example, poor sleep habits, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and long periods of intense work can drain your energy reserves. They can therefore impact your ability to think creatively.

3. Stress

Stress, whether it's related to work, personal life, or other factors, is unhealthy. It can also create mental barriers that impede your creative thinking. When you’re preoccupied with worries, it’s hard to access the state of mind and point of view you need for creative problem-solving.

4. Lack of Knowledge

Creativity thrives on knowledge and exposure to new ideas. Sometimes you may find yourself lacking in-depth knowledge about a particular domain or field. Without the needed mental models or frame of reference, you can limit your ability to generate innovative solutions and creative ideas.

5. Fear of Failure

The fear of making mistakes or producing subpar work can paralyze your creative thinking process and dominate your working hours. When you are overly focused on avoiding failure, it becomes challenging to take risks and explore new ideas.

Image of a diagram about creative blocks.

This is one way to handle a creative block.

© Adam J. Kurtz, Fair Use

The Impact of Creative Blocks on UX Designers

As a UX designer, your ability to come up with innovative solutions and create user-centered designs is essential. When faced with a creative block, you may experience:

  • Reduced productivity and efficiency in completing design projects.

  • Decreased motivation and job satisfaction.

  • Increased stress and frustration.

  • Self-doubt and questioning of your abilities as a designer.

  • Hindered collaboration and communication with other design team members.

Types of Creative Blocks

Creative blocks can manifest in various forms. Each has its own unique challenges. Some common types of creative blocks you may encounter include:

1. Idea Scarcity

This is a lack of fresh ideas and a difficulty in generating new concepts. You may feel stuck in a cycle of repetitive or unoriginal ideas. That will make it challenging to break free and explore innovative solutions.

2. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. While striving for excellence is commendable, excessive perfectionism can lead to creative paralysis. The fear of producing imperfect work or not getting all the design elements flawless can be extreme. In fact, it can keep you from experimenting and limit your ability to generate new ideas. And it can cost you lots of time and energy.

Illustration of a person chasing a trophy to symbolize pursuing perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a major cause of creative blocks.

© Aakash Jethwani / Octet Design Studio, Fair Use

3. Overthinking

Overthinking often goes hand in hand with perfectionism. If you’re stuck in excessive analysis and self-criticism, it will be hard to trust your instincts. It will be tough to let ideas flow naturally, too. Overthinking can be a vicious circle. It can lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence in your creative abilities.

4. Lack of Inspiration

Sometimes, you may struggle to find inspiration and feel disconnected from the creative process. Things may seem flat and plodding and uninspired. A lack of exposure to diverse sources of inspiration or a stagnant environment can contribute to this block.

5. Mental Fatigue

Long hours of intense work or prolonged periods of stress can result in mental fatigue. That can lead to a decrease in creative thinking. When you’re mentally exhausted, it becomes challenging to tap into your creative potential and produce innovative designs.

These are just a few examples of the creative blocks that you as a designer may face. Recognizing the specific type of block you are experiencing can help you tailor your strategies for overcoming it. It also helps to understand the various stages of creativity. When you do, you can appreciate the process and feel better about how ideas tend to come. Here, Professor Alan Dix explains these stages of creativity:

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Best Practices for Handling Creative Blocks

To overcome creative blocks, you need to take a proactive approach and adopt effective strategies. Here are some best practices:

1. Embrace the “Quantity Leads to Quality” Approach

Don't wait for the perfect idea to come before starting your design process. Instead, focus on generating a huge quantity of ideas. This approach lets you explore a wide range of possibilities. It also raises your chances of stumbling upon truly innovative ideas. Set aside dedicated time for brainstorming sessions and write down every idea. Do it no matter how wild or unconventional it may seem. Later, you can review and refine these ideas to find the most promising ones.

2. Cultivate Self-Awareness and Mindfulness

Developing self-awareness and practicing mindfulness can help you recognize the early signs of a creative block and address them proactively. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and energy levels. Take regular breaks to recharge and engage in activities that promote relaxation and mental clarity. These could be meditation or deep breathing exercises. When you are present in the moment and cultivate self-awareness, you can navigate through creative blocks more effectively.

3. Seek Inspiration from Diverse Sources

Expose yourself to a wide range of stimuli and seek inspiration from various fields outside of design. Explore art, literature, nature, music, and other areas that spark your curiosity. When you engage with diverse sources of inspiration, you can broaden your perspective. And when you’re enriched that way, it can trigger new connections and associations in your creative thinking process.

4. Break Routine and Embrace Novel Experiences

Go a bit further than the above and escape the monotony of daily routines by seeking out new experiences. Break free from your comfort zone and engage in activities that challenge your assumptions and broaden your horizons. Travel to new places, attend conferences or workshops, or explore hobbies unrelated to design. For instance, if you’re a visual designer, take a break from the “pictures” aspect of web design. Try playing an instrument or taking a day out at a historical site. Novel experiences stimulate the brain and allow you to approach your work with fresh perspectives.

5. Experiment with Different Techniques and Tools

Explore new design techniques, tools, and processes to reignite your creativity. Experiment with different prototyping methods, sketching styles, or user research techniques. For example, if you’re used to a user-centered design (UCD) process, try action research to get a new perspective. Or how about a focus group to help with your user research if you haven’t used one before? When you embrace unfamiliar tools and approaches, it can spark new ideas and help you break free from creative ruts.

6. Collaborate and Seek Feedback

Reach out to fellow designers, colleagues, or mentors for collaboration and feedback. Discuss your ideas with others. They can provide fresh insights and help you overcome mental blocks. Collaborative brainstorming sessions, design reviews, and constructive critiques can stimulate your creativity and push you to new heights. That, in turn, can give your target audience extra benefits which you might notice later when it comes to user testing.

7. Create a Supportive and Inspiring Workspace

Design your workspace so that it promotes creativity and inspiration. Surround yourself with colors, textures, and objects that stimulate your senses and evoke positive emotions. Organize your tools and materials in an accessible and visually pleasing way. Introduce elements of nature, such as plants or natural light, to create a calming, interesting, and energizing environment. Here, Professor Alan Dix explains what goes into an environment that nurtures creativity.

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8. Establish New Habits

Sometimes you can access hidden reserves of creativity when you become used to new things. So, adopt a new kind of regular activity or way of doing things. It can help get you into the mood—or mode—that you need to overcome creative blocks. Try taking a seat in another part of your home office, for example. Or maybe even a change in clothing—like a “thinking cap”—will be what helps you get more creative. As Professor Alan Dix shows here:

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9. Practice Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is the ability to generate multiple solutions and ideas for a given problem. Train your mind to think divergently by engaging in activities that promote free thinking and idea generation. Watch as Professor Alan Dix takes you through four ideation methods to help you think more divergently.

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10. Embrace Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Shift your mindset towards failure and view it as a valuable learning experience. So, “fail forward.” Understand that every idea or design iteration that falls short of expectations brings you closer to finding the right solution. See constructive criticism and feedback as opportunities for growth and improvement. Learn from your mistakes and apply those lessons to future projects. You’ll likely improve long before your next designs get to the usability testing stage.

11. Keep a Design Journal

A design journal is a handy tool to capture and organize your thoughts, ideas, sketches, and inspirations. Use it to revisit previous concepts and explore new connections. When you reflect on your journal entries, you can find valuable insights. Plus, it can serve as a source of inspiration to help you push your way through creative blocks.

Image of a notebook journal.

A good old-fashioned approach such as a journal to record ideas and sketches can help organize your creativity.

© Jonathan Robles, Fair Use

12. Set Realistic Goals and Deadlines

Break down your design projects into smaller, manageable tasks. Then set realistic goals and deadlines. This approach helps to keep you from feeling overwhelmed. It also lets you focus on one step at a time. Celebrate small victories along the way, as each accomplishment boosts your motivation and confidence.

13. Go for Continuous Learning and Professional Development

Invest in your professional development by staying updated on the latest design trends, industry best practices, and emerging technologies. Learn continuously through online courses, workshops, conferences, or joining design communities. When you expand your knowledge and skill set, you’ll have the tools to overcome creative challenges and push your creative boundaries.

14. Practice Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a visual technique that helps you organize thoughts and ideas in a non-linear way. Start with a central concept or problem statement. Then branch out with related ideas or potential solutions. Mind mapping encourages free association. It can also unveil hidden connections and creative solutions that you may not spot in a linear thought process.

A diagram of a mind map.

Mind maps can help you branch out to areas you might not tap otherwise.

© Saurav Pandey, Fair use

15. Take Breaks and Practice Self-Care

Last—but certainly not least—remember, rest and self-care are vital for creative energy. Take breaks regularly to recharge your mind and body. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as physical exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Prioritize sleep and ensure you have a healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout and maintain your creative flow. Human-centered design is a design discipline, but it takes on another sense here. So, make sure you center your concerns around the most important part of the creative process: yourself as a human being.

Illustration of a person riding a bicycle.

Remember you are far more than a brain-sized idea factory, so get out and enjoy some screen-free time exercising!

© Aakash Jethwani / Octet Design Studio, Fair Use

Professor Alan Dix offers a few more techniques to help you get fresh perspectives and fuel your creativity.

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Famous UX Designers and Authors on Creative Blocks

Even experienced and renowned UX designers have faced creative blocks throughout their careers. Here are a few insights from famous designers and authors on how they handle creative blocks:

  • Don Norman, author of "The Design of Everyday Things," suggests taking a break and engaging in physical activity to promote creativity and overcome mental blocks.

  • Don't be afraid to start over. Irene Au, former Head of Design at Google, emphasizes the importance of being willing to scrap ideas and iterate until you find the best solution.

  • Author Austin Kleon encourages designers to embrace constraints and limitations, as they can spark creativity and force you to find innovative solutions.

Example of a Brand That Overcame a Creative Block

Numerous brands have faced creative blocks but successfully managed to overcome them—here is a notable example:


In the late 1990s, Apple was experiencing a creative block and struggling to innovate. Steve Jobs returned to the company and implemented a design-focused approach, emphasizing simplicity, elegance, and user-centered design. This shift in mindset led to the creation of iconic products like the iMac, iPod, and iPhone. Apple leveraged its resilience, adaptability, and user-centric approach in overcoming creative blocks and fostering innovation.

Remember, creative blocks are an inevitable part of a designer's journey. They don't have to hinder your progress or dampen your creativity. However hopeless a block may appear at the time, you can navigate through it and unlock your creative potential. From there, you can create meaningful and impactful user experiences. So, try some of these techniques to unlock your innovation, unleash your imagination, and design experiences that inspire and delight users. On the way, you’ll become more acquainted with the creative genius you have within you.

Learn More about Creative Blocks

Take our course, Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services.

Read our piece Understand The Various Types of Creativity for further insights.

Take our masterclass, Harness Your Creativity to Design Better Products.

Read this highly insightful article, 9 Ways For UX Designers to Overcome Creative Block | Emily Stevens.  

For further in-depth insights into creative blocks, see Learnings of Overcoming Creative Blocks as a Designer | Sabrina Couto.

Literature on Creative Blocks

Here’s the entire UX literature on Creative Blocks by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Creative Blocks

Take a deep dive into Creative Blocks with our course Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services .

The overall goal of this course is to help you design better products, services and experiences by helping you and your team develop innovative and useful solutions. You’ll learn a human-focused, creative design process.

We’re going to show you what creativity is as well as a wealth of ideation methods―both for generating new ideas and for developing your ideas further. You’ll learn skills and step-by-step methods you can use throughout the entire creative process. We’ll supply you with lots of templates and guides so by the end of the course you’ll have lots of hands-on methods you can use for your and your team’s ideation sessions. You’re also going to learn how to plan and time-manage a creative process effectively.

Most of us need to be creative in our work regardless of if we design user interfaces, write content for a website, work out appropriate workflows for an organization or program new algorithms for system backend. However, we all get those times when the creative step, which we so desperately need, simply does not come. That can seem scary—but trust us when we say that anyone can learn how to be creative­ on demand. This course will teach you ways to break the impasse of the empty page. We'll teach you methods which will help you find novel and useful solutions to a particular problem, be it in interaction design, graphics, code or something completely different. It’s not a magic creativity machine, but when you learn to put yourself in this creative mental state, new and exciting things will happen.

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Ideation Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises which together form a complete ideation project so you can get your hands dirty right away. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

Your instructor is Alan Dix. He’s a creativity expert, professor and co-author of the most popular and impactful textbook in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan has worked with creativity for the last 30+ years, and he’ll teach you his favorite techniques as well as show you how to make room for creativity in your everyday work and life.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

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