6 Graphic Design Projects To Help You Break A Creative Rut

Woman painting with watercolor on paper

Maybe you have some extra free time to yourself or perhaps you’ve hit that one major hurdle that every graphic designer dreads: a creative rut. Designers look to the former as an exciting opportunity to experiment with new graphic design projects, while the latter can be a disappointing, albeit inevitable season of life for any creative. Yet, what feels like a lull in creativity is actually the best time to lean into your projects.

It might sound a little backwards, but creative ruts are often drivers of inspiration. So, during this time, what can you do to keep your skills sharp, avoid a time suck and recharge your creative batteries? Challenge yourself to try something entirely new.

This is an opportunity to expand your skillset and extend your network through collaboration. Allow yourself the freedom to try things and mess up and use this time to build up your confidence; self-initiated projects may help you discover something you likely wouldn’t encounter in client projects.

But where should you begin? If you’re having a difficult time finding new graphic design project ideas to try, there are a few places you can start: like browsing student portfolios, checking out leaders in the industry or just scrolling through Instagram. You’ll soon discover that there is motivation all around you.

To get you started, here are 6 graphic design project ideas you can try the next time you need a little extra motivation.

1. Timed Experiments

Looking for a quick way to unblock? Setting yourself a challenge that is restricted by time is a great way to increase creativity and produce some fun, unexpected results.

UK based designer and illustrator Shaun Swainland set himself a challenge called The Ten Minute Type Project. The result is a varied collection of individual letterforms, words and phrases in a multitude of styles from graphic and 3D to hand-rendered.

Even our own teachers here at Shillington are constantly taking on side projects and challenges to keep themselves sharp. It’s practice makes perfect for Cathy Sison who has perfected her calligraphy through posting daily inspirational quotes to her Instagram account.

Both Alan Barba and Nikita Prokhorov each practice the art of lettering through their quick, colorful explorations of anything from scripts and three-dimensional type to ambigrams.

Setting a short time limit like 10 minutes leaves no room for creative indecisiveness and instead brings in the kind of spontaneity that helps creativity grow.

2. Gamify your learning

Getting unstuck from a creative block doesn’t always have to be a serious endeavor.

Designercize takes traditional whiteboard exercises to the digital realm with a fun retro gaming, analog throwback design. Designercize helps you test your problem-solving skills as a designer. You simply choose a level of difficulty and a random design prompt is generated for you. Each prompt acts as a simple brief with information about what you need to design and who it’s for.

There’s also an optional timer if you’re up to the challenge. According to the creators, Zach Albert and Jake Fleming, in just 15 minutes a day Designercize gives you better design thinking, helps you make faster design decisions and helps with interview skills.

You can also gamify your learning with other people and connect with a larger design community

Playoffs by Dribbble is an online platform that allow designers to upload a Shot (design) and prompt the community to upload their own Shot inspired by the original. With anything from logos and poster design through to app screens and packaging, it’s a fun, inventive way to riff off other creative ideas and help expand your own.

Try these other brief generators to download generated briefs with a bit of structure to guide you:

3. Design to Redesign

A brand redesign occurs for a variety of reasons including an outdated image, a change in target audience, international growth, new management or even a bad reputation.

Sometimes establishing a new brand identity doesn’t necessitate a complete rebrand, but instead relies on finding a balance between tradition and modernity; merging the old with the new. Other times, a rebrand might mean a complete overhaul.

Check out Under Consideration’s Before-After archives for in-depth case studies on the latest rebrands by industry leaders. It is a fantastic resource to find inspiration in the whys and hows behind rebranding projects and a starting point in undertaking one yourself.

Take, for example, the rebranding of online learning community Skillshare. With a previous logo that wasn’t flexible enough for digital spaces, Skillshare created a new dynamic identity that is more legible and communicates their spirit of experimentation, exploration and discovery.

Or how about the rebrand of Eight, a company that designs products, content and tools to help people sleep better for optimum performance each day. Originally designed with calming colors to be used within a sleep-inducing environment and a logo that reflected the phases of the moon, the company has now seen a complete brand refresh. “The rebrand moved Eight Sleep from mattress company to sleep fitness company. Borrowing cues from athletic brands, the new identity stands in stark contrast to the predominately cute and simple voice of the mattress category and creates a whole new category unto itself.”

Next time you’re facing a rut or are blessed with some spare time on your hands, choose a business you think might be facing one of the aforementioned issues and challenge yourself to revamp their brand image. You could choose to take on a larger global brand or perhaps you could choose a small business, local in your community and even pitch it to them down the line.

4. Passion projects

A great way to get yourself out from under the pressure of a creative rut is to pause and reflect on your passions.

Undertake a self-initiated graphic design project that reflects the things you feel connected to. Not only will this work reflect your personality, but it will also add a more personal dimension to your portfolio and help shape the kind of work that comes your way in the future. What if your passion, interests or sense of humor resonates with potential clients? Your self-initiated project could be a shortcut to landing your dream job.

“Opportunities don’t happen, you create them”—Chris Grosser

Try exploring a design project that represents your approach, process or simply something you love about design

London based graphic designer Duane Dalton, currently a designer at SocioDesign, explores projects that reflect his love of clear communication in design. One project, an extensive series of simple stamps, use only type and simple, uniform shapes. The design series is a nod to the minimalistic qualities that are often employed throughout the rest of his work in logo design and brand identity systems.

Duane’s second undertaking is a project called Album Anatomy. “An exploration in the art of reduction. It breaks down album imagery into its purest form by discarding any unnecessary information.” Purist and Swiss in its use of a strict grid for the album details, each design reflects Duane’s personal response to an album.

Instead of design themes, you could also try something that shows off your personality or individual beliefs instead.

In March of 2017 illustrator, Josh Ryan created his series Introflirted, a series of love notes for introverts. Combining fun illustrations with witty expressions that would resonate with any true introvert, his project is now being published into a book of 31 postcards to tear out and send to all the introverts in your life.

Another great example is taken from our very own Shillington student showcase, Juliette Van Rhyn’s packaging project for an alcohol-free spirit was inspired by Berlin’s club culture but with the idea of catering to a more grown-up crowd who still crave the “unique connecting experience” but without the hangover. Get inspired by her full graphic design project here.

5. Collaborations and Swaps

It can be a truly inspiring thing to have a creative partner to collaborate with. Not only can they help with a creative rut, but they can also prove to be a support source to lean on, help things run more efficiently and help an ambitious goal feel more attainable. They are also a second creative mind to inject into a project. It’s way more fun to let a project unfold as the product of two or more brains, rather than just your own.

London designer, illustrator and part-time teacher George Simkin recently teamed up with Shillington graduate Juliette van Rhyn to create Good Shape Studio, a creative outlet to experiment and “explore the intersection between design and play.”

However, a beneficial collaboration doesn’t always have to be with a fellow creative. Teaming up to trade skills with a collaborator with a different skillset or offering up services in exchange for the non-monetary benefit can also help you to extend your network and gain invaluable experience.

A skill swap can be a great way for new designers to get experience working with clients when first getting started, or even experienced designers looking to break into a new niche. It’s an effective way to figure out or refine your process and of course, there’s the added bonus of a living, breathing design out in the real world beyond your portfolio.

When New York-based designer Lauren Hom wanted to branch out into chalk lettering she decided to combine two loves of lettering and lunching into a graphic design project called Will Letter for Lunch and offered free chalkboard art for restaurants in exchange for lunch. What started as a fun project turned into landing major paid projects with large clients.

6. Design Challenges

Participating in design challenges is a great way to inject some creativity with a community connection as well. The self-discipline required to take on such an endeavor is not just a fun way to break free from a rut, but can also serve as a nice distraction from the creative restraints of client work and a vital tool in gaining new skills.

LA-based product designer Travis Kane graduated in 2015 and rose to the heights of Instagram-fame in 2019 with his poster-a-day project. Not only did the project act as a means of some cathartic self-expression, but it also led to many freelance commissions outside of his day job, mainly across music and fashion.

“I’ve always had a passion for personal work and taking the client out of the equation, just making stuff for the hell of it and to express how I’m feeling. I learned that the end result doesn’t really matter: it was more learning about myself in general than about design.” (AIGA, Eye on Design)

Check out other poster-based challenges like Blank Poster and Poster Jam which challenge designers to create based on a weekly or monthly chosen word.

The 100 Day Project is the brainchild of Elle Luna and Lindsay Jean Thomson. The goal is to inspire and motivate makers from all walks to create daily. Choose any project, do it for 100 days and join an online global community by posting on Instagram with the hashtag #the100dayproject.

The Daily Logo Challenge, 36 Days of Type and Inktober are all fantastic challenge that are sure to get your creative wheels turning.

So there you have it. A creative lull isn’t always something to worry about, instead, it is a fantastic opportunity to lean into projects and get experimental. So next time you find yourself with some free time or approaching that disappointing hurdle, think about trying some of the graphic design projects above. This will help drive inspiration, sharpen skills, build your confidence and recharge your creative batteries. Turn that rut into creative rewards!

Article by Shillington London teacher Hilary Archer

Enjoyed this guest author post? Read this article from Shillington London teacher Mark Ellis on ‘What You Need in Your Creative Toolkit’ and ways you can develop as a designer to succeed in your career.

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