Forest path

On Getting Stuck

I imagine this happens to everyone, but in a “creative” field such as design, it’s almost a regular occurrence. I’m talking about that time when you’re working on solving a problem and you just don’t know the right way to do it.

I don’t know about you, but I can almost always solve a design problem pretty quickly. However, I will intuitively know it is not the right solution. It doesn’t feel right. It’s almost a feeling of uneasiness that is deep within you. Designer’s intuition, or something like that.

This is isn’t strictly something that happens in design, it happens in regular life occurrences all the time. We know we need to do something differently, but a lack of clarity or an endless number of options available can be paralyzing. Designers experience this many, many times I think. Sometimes it’s just minute details we get hung up on.

My most recent design example of this is that I was trying to craft a user setting in a web application, and it was hard to explain without being extremely verbose. The downside of verboseness is of course, the expenditure of cognitive load on the user to just read and understand what the thing says. Huh? Let me read that again.

You may have noticed that there is a quite a large gap in time between this post and the last one. I stumbled and got stuck there too. Not one thing got in the way, just a few things to distract and then my brain tells me “I don’t know what to write about.” Then much later it hits me in the face – that is what I need to write about.

There is probably a psychology term for this, but I like “getting stuck.” It doesn’t always feel the same, but usually these things resolve themselves in similar ways. For me, I almost always have to first accept that I’m stuck. It’s not something we humans like to do. Selfish pride or something. Even if it’s just a personal thing – are trying to protect our mind from itself?

We must accept that we are stuck and that it’s ok to be there.

Once you’ve accepted that, you should feel a sense of peace. The problem still exists, but you’ve removed the pressure from yourself. Now you can move forward.

Moving forward towards a solution is not always easy. Sometimes a distraction or “sleeping on it” will help. Both of these things allow your mind to relax about the problem and store it away in your memory for a while.

Although you’re no longer focusing on the problem, keep it close at hand in your mind. Pay attention to your thoughts and the world around you, because almost always, the answer will present itself to you.

Be patient. This may take anywhere from an hour to a few weeks. If enough time goes by, you may actually forget about the problem. Don’t do that. Keep it close at hand, but don’t dwell on it. Eventually it your mind will sort things out for you, or notice something around you that sparks an idea.

Try that idea. See if it works, and if not, accept it and repeat.

Brian Hoops
Brian Hoops

Slow thinker.

Articles: 29

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