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Overcoming Web Builder's Block

By Jeffrey Allan
Posted Friday, October 1, 2004

There you sit - The largest contract of your Web building career has finally been landed, and this'll be your last project before depositing that payment in the Caymans, and heading down to Cancun for some well-deserved R&R. Sure, this is a common scenario in the every-day life of us Web builders and this exotic profession, and then we wake up, and have to go to work...

More close to reality is that we have yet another client, expecting divine miracles (often on a shoe-string budget), and there we sit in front of the monitor, in a near-lethargic state, trying to come up with a bit of creative magic. If this hasn't happened to you yet, don't worry... it will. When you've been building Web sites, for several years straight, at some point or another, you're going to run out of creative ideas. This is where the danger sets in, because if we begin to just recycle ideas from our past work, then everything begins to look the same, and worse, starts to lack innovation. The longer it persists, the shorter the client list will become.

It's true that often times, people take creative work for granted, assuming that creative professionals are just always so, well... creative. And while this should be the case, it is often times more an effort to spur creativity, rather than just waiting for it to come along, on its own. And just as writers often experience the phenomena known generally as "writer's block", Web builders are finding that they too can fall victim to what we've come to naturally refer to as "Web Builder's Block".

An associate mentioned the subject to a group of peers, over at C|Net, after which we discussed the best methods for overcoming this dilemma, and the individual techniques used by each Web builder involved with the discussion. From what others told us, as well as our own preferred methods, we've learned a lot about battling this beast, and taking control of our creative talents.

Probably, one of the most common answers we heard when other Web builders described their methods for overcoming Web builder's block, was a method used throughout many professions to either reduce tension, or spur creative thinking - Music. While music may sooth the savage beast, it turns out that it is also good for assisting in the creative process. For which exact reason this is true, we don't know. After all, we're Web builders, not psychologists, but the fact remains true that it does.

One interesting point made by several Web builders was that the type of music they listen to while creating Web sites, actually directly affects the type of site that they produce, and their specific work-flow. So, for some, while Metallica may be the best way to rush and meet that deadline, Bach may be best for creating that color scheme.

What other methods did the builders over at C|Net mention? One other particularly popular choice was reading through print materials, especially advertising and marketing related ones, to find interesting design layouts and color schemes, that could be adapted for the Web. Other builders mentioned something that seemed somewhat out of the ordinary - they spent time watching MTV (after hearing this one, the author also experimented with this method, to a surprising amount of success). Watching the visuals, and especially the cut-scenes from MTV's own promotional spots was reported by several builders to have given them creative ideas that helped build complete sites.

Finally, the one method, that has almost become a standard for all Web building professionals is to check out what our competition is up to. This is not to say that we're going to Yahoo!, finding all competitors from a certain category, and producing duplicates of their work. Instead, going to your competitor's site, studying through it, and deciding "What could have been done to make this site better?". Keep your copy of Notepad open, if you must, and make notes. Take a screen shot that you can refer back to during your own building process, and more than likely, you'll find that the end result is at least above your early expectations.

When none of these methods work, then don't forget the simplest method of all - Turn off the computer, take a walk, have a conversation, or just sit back and take a breather. There are many differences between "spurred" creativity and "forced" creativity, and more often than not, you'll be less than satisfied with results that are forced prematurely. Better to let creativity take its course.

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