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Fighting Creative Blocks in Collaborative Design

May 28, 2021 | Design

We’ve all been there: painfully aware of a deadline, staring at an empty page waiting for inspiration to finally come – and despite our best efforts, it just… won’t. It’s easy to equate that blank page with personal ineptitude, but in reality, creative blocks are extremely common. This is especially true during collaborative design; for many, the pressure and murky requirements around team projects can completely halt creativity. That being said, creative blocks aren’t all bad – they are an essential piece of the creative process. 

What are Creative Blocks?

A creative block is the inability to access one’s internal creativity, often leaving the person feeling incapable of producing new work. If you’ve ever experienced this, you’re in good company; many of the greats, including Claude Monet, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Pablo Picasso, have dealt with the same problem. In fact, Picasso found his paintings so infuriating during his creative block that he turned to poetry instead. 

What Causes Creative Blocks?

Infinite factors can cause creative blocks, and often, the kicker is a combination of factors. While some may be outside of our control, understanding the possible causes allows us to work towards finding a solution. 

Outside Stressors 

Some people see their most inspiring, creative moments during their most stressful times – but that’s not the case for everyone. When we’re distracted by life outside the workplace, it can have huge repercussions on our abilities to perform at our jobs. What’s more, work is already stressful for many; according to Quantum Workplace, over half of employees feel physically drained after a day’s work, and a quarter feels mentally drained as well. Adding outside stressors to an already stressful situation is a recipe for creative blocks.

Lack of Investment 

Sometimes, a lack of inspiration is symptomatic of a lack of investment in a project; people are uninspired because the project doesn’t inspire them. This can happen when team members don’t feel personal ownership over their role, as it’s hard to be invested in something that doesn’t belong to you. 

Another reason people may not be invested in a project is if they didn’t choose to take it, or the choice was between taking the project or being out of work. And of course, we tend not to be invested in things we don’t feel are worth our time. Whether the assignment doesn’t pay enough, doesn’t advance their career, or isn’t receiving any recognition from upper management, it’s easy to see how it could be difficult for people to throw themselves into a project that feels rather pointless. 

Why We’re Prone to Creative Blocks During Collaborative Design

Depending on your personality and working style, collaborative design could be the solution to a creative block. For some, however, working with a team adds another layer of stress to an already difficult situation – heightening the problem instead of solving it.  

Performance Anxiety

Unlike individual work, collaborative design often involves working under the watchful eyes of peers, which can be extremely nerve-wracking for those with performance anxiety. The pressure of having to think of something original, in front of others, while on a deadline, can be debilitating. 

Unclear Expectations 

Creativity needs constraints, and while strict instructions can definitely halt creativity, so can overly vague project requirements. If no one knows what exactly a collaborative design project needs to include, no one can know if their thinking is on the right track. And if no one knows when a project is due, they have no way of knowing how much time and energy they can plan to invest in it.

Endless Review Cycles  

Nothing is quite as disheartening as a neverending review cycle. Seeing the same idea get torn apart on a loop is an excellent way to kill a creative streak. When we say a word too many times in a row, it begins to lose all meaning, and the same can happen to an idea; at a certain point, we can’t think about something any more than we already have. 


Another cause of creative blocks during collaborative design is burnout, a state of exhaustion from prolonged job stress. On its own, a creative block doesn’t necessarily mean burnout, but paired with physical tiredness, dread, and feelings of incompetence, it could be a warning sign. 

One cause of burnout is overly demanding work, and team projects tend to be more demanding in certain areas than individual projects. First of all, there’s constant, often disorganized, communication. Second, there’s heaps of pressure to be useful; people take on more than they can handle in order to prove themselves or help their coworkers. Lastly, projects never feel complete when the review process cycles over and over, making it difficult to fully relax. 

Like creative blocks, burnout is widespread among creative professionals, but it’s also entirely reversible.

Escaping a Creative Block 

While creative blocks are many designers’ worst nightmare, they aren’t permanent. Regardless of what’s causing one, there are plenty of potential solutions; we can learn to overcome these blocks by identifying the causes, adjusting our workflow, and returning to the basics. 

Find Inspiration

Take a break

The simplest solution to a creative block, though often the most effective, is to get out and find inspiration. It can help to take a break, experience something new, and keep a notebook on hand in case any ideas come your way. This is especially true for those with performance anxiety; working away from others, even briefly, might be enough to lift the creative block. A fun way to do this is to explore a city with a critical eye, taking note of anything that could be improved. Even if your findings have nothing to do with the project, inspiration can come from anywhere, and it could help get the creative juices flowing. 


Another way to seek inspiration is through research. If you’re stuck on ideas, find out as much as humanly possible about the client: their brand, competition, and what has and hasn’t worked previously. After thorough research, you could create a word map describing the company, which may provide a unique perspective as you brainstorm. 

Return to the Sketchbook

Lastly, jot down anything that pops into your brain, whether it feels worthy or not. There are no bad ideas when it comes to brainstorming; irrelevant, infeasible, and downright ridiculous ideas can inspire great ones. If you have momentum, keep it going.

Use Your Teammates 

One of the best parts of collaborative design is the knowledge and insight teammates can offer. Your coworkers are an invaluable resource to bounce ideas off of, as they understand the ins and outs of the project. What’s more, ideas build off each other, and combining your brainpower with another team member’s could lead to an idea far greater than otherwise possible. 

How Approval Software Helps You Sail Past The Creative Blocks

While technology can’t prevent stress outside of the workplace or make employees more invested in a project, the right tools can fight creative blocks during collaborative design in several ways. 

Clarifies Vague Expectations

Vague requirements are a common complaint during collaborative design projects, and as stated previously, a big contributor to creative blocks. The solution? Get clarity. If the client is willing, one way to do this is to ask them follow-up questions on any areas that seem a little murky. You can also ask for clarity on your specific role in the project, as it can be challenging to think of ideas when you aren’t sure about what you are meant to be doing. 

Once the project has taken off, the best way to get clarity is often through approval software. Ashore was built by creatives, for creatives, so clarity is weaved into the platform itself. You can assign senders, approvers, and reviewers to each stage of the workflow so everyone knows what they are expected to do each step of the way. 

To remove the possibility of vague feedback, Ashore offers contextualized commenting so reviewers can point to exactly where they’d like a change, and markup tools to add further clarification. And of course, designers need to know a project’s requirements, so Ashore also has a checklist feature, which lays out precisely what needs to be included in order to approve. 

Puts an End to the Endless Review Cycles

One of the most frustrating things for a designer is watching their work get endlessly revised. To prevent this from happening, Ashore offers customizable workflows. This allows designers to create as many stages as they feel appropriate, putting an endpoint to the review process. We’ve also accounted for the fact that things will need to get tweaked, so instead of restarting the cycle, reviewers can ‘approve with changes’ – meaning a proof is still approved, it just needs a few small adjustments. Lastly, you can approve documents on a file-by-file basis, so the parts that work won’t get pulled down by those that don’t. 

Helps Prevent Burnout and Mitigate Performance Anxiety

Deadline pressure is a major contributor to performance anxiety in the workplace, and though we can’t often remove a deadline, we can manage them better with proof timelines. These will show all of the communications, actions, and important milestones around a project, allowing users to better assess where they stand. The Ashore dashboard also color-codes every project for those who want to check their status instantly, making it easier for creatives to determine their capacity for new work. 

Understanding (and respecting) your capacity for work is an important piece of fighting burnout, however, that’s only half of the battle; burnout can also occur from work that’s too taxing. Luckily, Ashore has a few features to make reviewing a pleasant process. To start, Ashore provides designers and their clients with a more organized way of communicating. Users can send comments in threads and resolve them when the conversation ends, or even direct a comment to a specific approver with our mentions feature. 

To further reduce the difficulties of collaborative design, Ashore replaces unnecessary, time-consuming tasks with automation. Users can automate notifications, emails, and even take advantage of integrations with the platforms they already use. 

With timelines, organized communication, and automations to speed up the process, Ashore helps creatives move through the review process without a hitch.

Ready to Set Sail?  

Creative blocks are pervasive, stressful, and downright annoying –  but there are solutions. By streamlining the review process, Ashore won’t just help you move through creative blocks and fine-tune your creative process, it’ll bring the joy back to collaborative design. Ready to get started? Sign up for free today!

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