This tip is brought to you by Dan Trenkner, our art director here at DT.

So you’ve just finished getting all the flows, sitemaps, moodboards, and wireframes of your latest project approved, and now it’s finally time to dive into design. Yet, whether you’ve got endless inspiration or none at all, you find yourself suffering from an onset of design paralysis.

So how do you finally dive into the design and get yourself in the zone?

Many creatives start their work by identifying foundation elements to which they mold the rest of their project around. For example, an interior designer might find a bright yellow couch from the fifties and design the rest of a room to complement the mood that the couch brings. Or a fashion designer might be drawn to a unique steampunk necklace which they then craft the rest of an outfit around.

So, start by identifying a design element or aesthetic that you’re excited about, whether it’s a header image, an awesome font, a texture, a button style, or a color palette. This element will become the foundation of your design project that you will then build upon.

Take inspiration from an existing logo and color palette

From this design element, move outward and build upon it. Maybe your foundation element has enough style in it to give you a stylistic direction of how to treat your images or typography.

See if you can create a style to complement your foundation elements

And if you get stuck, try either moving onto a different section or tackling steps that don’t require as much inspiration, such as flowing content in or laying out smaller design elements like links and forms. By doing this, you’re still keeping the momentum going; plus, by doing so, you’ll find sparks of inspiration to bring to other elements of the design.

Laying out chunks of copy can be encouraging in seeing progression on a design

The key is to keep the momentum going. Draw upon your foundation elements for direction and inspiration; as you move onto different parts of the design, keep building upon that foundation little by little. Before you know it, you’ll have most if not all of your design created and ready for final polishes!

  • Great article – except for the line about “flowing content in” or “creating forms” as not requiring as much inspiration. Treating content like a design element requires just as much careful thought and consideration as any other element – maybe more so!

    It’s a pretty common thing, though. When I worked at agencies, everything was usually designed and greeked before we ever got the content from the client…and so many projects could have been so much better if we’d built the site to complement the content instead of the other way around…

    Great food for thought with my coffee, though – love how you guys think!

    • Jessica Moon

      You bring up a great point Chris, which is that too frequently we’re faced with working with pseudo content without getting insight into what the content will detail. On a side note, I think that what can help this paradigm is a continued push for planning responsively so that the design fits the mold of any content produced, at least from a structural standpoint — that way we strive for closing the gap that’s created when we are in the situation you mentioned.

  • Jamie Hamel-Smith

    See if you can create a style to complement your foundation elements

    This is a key point for me. When coding a design in HTML/CSS, it’s always very apparent when this element was successfully executed. There’s a “wow” moment when stepping back and taking a look at buttons, headings, and textures that flow together and have that complementary quality.

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