In a groove or in a rut?

Stuck in a rutSometimes we can be comfortable, applying familiar patterns to familiar problems. Whether it's layouts, frameworks or tools, we can get "into the groove" where we feel we are accomplishing things quickly and efficiently, leaning on our experience and proven solutions. At some point, this groove can become a rut, where we no longer challenge our assumptions or look for better options.

Often we believe the "sunk cost fallacy" - concentrating on what we already invested in the current solution, such as time, money, and effort, and it may keep us stuck. Sure, the team knows the current tools, and the design patterns are well documented and understood, but do they really push the boundaries of what modern web applications can be? Browsers, platforms and tools change so quickly, you may be designing for yesterday's constraints.

How to get out of a rut

1. Acknowledge The Problem

You can not get out of a rut if you don't acknowledge you're in one. Forgive yourself for not noticing sooner, for letting yourself go this long without addressing it. The important thing is you're addressing it now. Challenge yourself to look for novel solutions to familiar problems. Before you implement the same, successful solution as you have before, try to decide if this is the project on which to try something new.

2. Step Away from the Computer

When you’re in a holding pattern with the same designs and the same effects, slowly back away from the computer. Don’t force it or expect inspiration to appear if you’ve been staring at the same design for hours. Come back later and you may be shocked at what starts coming out of you and onto the page. Sometimes getting out of a creative rut just means taking a breath, a moment and a break before it all comes flooding back again. Embrace your rut as part of the process and rest assured that it won’t last forever.

3. Change Something Small

Start by changing one control, color or font. It may not be permanent, but the small change gives you permission to make other changes, and may trigger additional ideas.

4. Find Inspiration

Seek out and experience the world and find inspiration in everyday things. One great place would be an art gallery or museum. If you can’t leave your desk, the Internet is an obvious gold mine to get inspired and get the ideas flowing again. Read voraciously - blogs, books, news - anything that discusses designs and evolving technology. There is always something new on the horizon. Read enough and you can identify the fads from the trends.

5. Look Outside Your Industry

We limit ourselves when we only compare ourselves to our direct competitors - we can be the best of breed platform in our industry, or we can try to be the best solution in any marketplace. You have to redefine what you are building. Instead of looking at designing for an insurance company, reframe it so you are designing content publishing or a customer self service portal. You open yourself to a new set of competition and new ways of looking at things.

There's nothing wrong with staying consistent and reusing patterns that solve problems under specified constraints.  The danger comes when you stop questioning assumptions or apply solutions that don't solve the entire problem.  Don't let you groove turn into a rut.