Being Creative on a Deadline

by Maddie King

When I tell people that I’m a designer, their response is usually “Oh wow, you’re so lucky! I wish I could get paid to draw all day!” First of all, they’re right: I am lucky. But it’s not just doodling whenever I feel like it.

Being creative comes a little easier when you have the luxury of time and are in a creative mood. But when you have a tight deadline and those artsy juices just aren’t flowing it can be frustrating. Quite often at work I’ll get assigned a task to create an ad, work on some logo comps, or (my least favorite) come up with some messaging and I’ll sit there staring at the screen for a while before I eventually force myself to start.

Luckily, I’ve discovered these five quick ways to jump start my creativity when a deadline is looming.

1. Get Something on Paper

A few weeks back, I was working on some logo comps for a client and I wasn’t happy with anything I was coming up with. Josh, one of the graphic designers (and the unofficial Intern Herder), told me that oftentimes you gotta get all the bad ideas out before the good ones come. Turns out this is true. He had me come in the next day, plug in the headphones, and fill a few sheets of paper with ideas. I’m pretty sure one of those was just a jar of jam with a guy’s name on it—there were some really bad ones. But mixed in with the cringeworthy were a few “diamonds in the rough” I ended up being really pleased with.

2. Find Inspiration

Pushing out lots of creative work is great, but you eventually need to give something back to your creative inside and fill up your cup. And while you have to be careful not to borrow too heavily from others’ ideas, it’s okay to take a look at work that you admire and build off of an element that strikes your fancy. There are lots of websites out there to help you accomplish that, but of course when you’re on a deadline, you probably don’t have lots of time to go looking. Pinterest is a great place to start because it’s super easy to navigate and you can quickly find tons of ideas you might never have thought of.

3. Go Big

As I mentioned, messaging is not my strongest suit, so it’s the thing that’s hardest for me to get started with. Abby, Navigate’s other graphic design intern (and queen of messaging), told me that a good way to fight that is to write down some ridiculously outlandish stuff and then reign it in later through the editing process. Dreaming big and out of the box is wonderful and oftentimes unrealistic, but you might uncover a great idea in the process. So find that totally quirky idea and then tone it back to fit the client’s needs.

4. Start With Your Go-to and Go From There

My go-to for any kind of design or messaging is a pun. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a thing nonetheless. I start with the cheesiest puns you ever did hear (major dad joke fan over here), and after I’ve got all the puns out, my creative muscles are warmed up and ready to move on to some other creative ideas.

5. Go Someplace Different

Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery. While I’m at work, this change of scenery means moving over to the “big table” to sit with some of the other Navigate team members. There, I’m able to ask others what they think, and through the magic of collaboration I’ll almost always find an idea that gets me on my creative way.

These are just a few of the tricks I’ve picked up while struggling to be creative on a deadline. It’s not always easy, but the excitement and pride you get when looking at a really great idea after struggling to find it feels pretty lovely!