Design insights & tutorials.

The Dreaded Design Lull – 9 Ways to Get Out of a Slump

Recognizing and reacting to a slowdown in design work.

I can remember clearly when it was just me alone in my apartment running this design firm. It was easy to stay busily and happily working on a non-stop string of client projects for months on end. Then unexpectedly one day – I would notice something strange. I felt depressed. I felt tired. I couldn’t seem to stay focused. I was more inclined to surf the web than work on my projects.

The design lull

Was I losing my ambition? Was I a no-good bum? Was I burnt out? No. I was just in a design lull. The work on my plate had suddenly stopped or lightened significantly. I had gotten so used to a non-stop string of crushing deadlines, that this sudden lull in work left me feeling lost. There was no serious demand for my time. And so, I felt bad. I didn’t have that client over my shoulder keeping me focused.

It would normally take me 2-6 days of a lull before I realized what was going on. Once I did realize I was in a lull, I had to make a conscious effort to refocus my priorities. All of the things I needed to accomplish to keep the company growing were now where I needed to focus my energy. And after ignoring them for so long, it DOES take an effort to re-focus. You must consider all the many things you can do, prioritize them, make yourself a list and get cracking!

If you are starting your own company or simply working as a freelance designer, there is always a bazillion things that need to be worked on. SO, try to recognize that you’re in the middle of a design lull. And then refocus your energy and give yourself a project to work on. This is critical to the long-term success of your company.

Here are a few things you can do when you recognize that you’re in a lull:

1. Take a deep breath, relax and ENJOY it. That’s right – you’ve (probably) earned it, so take a moment to stop and smell the roses. After weeks of being “slammed” it’s good to take a break. Realize you’re slow, ratchet down a gear, let the stress you’ve built up flow out of your body. Assume a more relaxed state of mind and let your “batteries” recharge. Ok, 5 minutes of that should do it. Now move quickly onto number 2.

2. Re-focus. Now that you realize you’re in a lull it’s important to re-focus your attention. After spending weeks scrambling to keep up with your customer’s requests, it’s easy to feel kind of lost for direction when the demand for your time suddenly dries up. Now that you realize you’re slow, you need to refocus your attention on your company! If you sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting for work to come to you – you will perish. So, now is your opportunity to do all those things you daydream about while you’re slammed with customer work. Here are a few things you might consider:

3. Seek out a new client. Been fantasizing about working for Puma? Great! Write a letter, do a mock-up, contact their art director… Whatever. Just take some ACTION. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a simple e-mail that lands a big design project.

4 Advertise! This could be passing out fliers in your neighborhood, sending e-mails out to people you would like to work for or designing a new marketing piece. There are a thousand ways to spread the word about your services. Get cracking!

5. Drive traffic – Got a blog? Write an article you think people would like.

6. Work on your company systems! How do you organize your projects? How do you keep your books? How do you do your banking?

7. Be a student. Have a piece of software you’ve been DYING to learn but haven’t had the time? Find a tutorial, open the software and learn something! (No. Video Games DO NOT count as “software.”)

8. Get in touch with your clients! Haven’t had time to write thank-you letters? Sometimes a simple note to an old client will spark them to buy more services from you.

9. The important thing is to STAY BUSY. If you use your design lulls to be productive, they will be short lived. And I promise – just about the moment that you’re REALLY getting into your side-work, a new client will drop a massive project in your lap. So set a goal and get to it!

-Bill

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.
Discover More by William Beachy

Discussion

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  • AndrU

    Nice Article!, good points!,

    Cheerz!,

  • AndrU

    Nice Article!, good points!,

    Cheerz!,

  • http://www.jasperwiese.com Jasper Wiese

    good article, in a small one myself atm :p

  • http://www.jasperwiese.com Jasper Wiese

    good article, in a small one myself atm :p

  • Shell

    Thanks so much for this article! I can’t believe I was just on YA yesterday asking for tips to inspire my creativity because I felt like I was in a “rut” for lack of better language. Again, Thanks! -Shell

  • Shell

    Thanks so much for this article! I can’t believe I was just on YA yesterday asking for tips to inspire my creativity because I felt like I was in a “rut” for lack of better language. Again, Thanks! -Shell

  • Iva

    I dug it:)

  • Iva

    I dug it:)

  • http://www.r2mediagroup.net Ryan R

    Thanks for the article. I am currently in a “lull” thus surfing the internet instead of working. Good to know I’m not the only one effected by this condition hopefully I can use the information in this article to refocus. These are all the obvious points that every designer in the business knows, but its nice to hear them from someone else.

    Thanks,
    R

  • http://www.r2mediagroup.net Ryan R

    Thanks for the article. I am currently in a “lull” thus surfing the internet instead of working. Good to know I’m not the only one effected by this condition hopefully I can use the information in this article to refocus. These are all the obvious points that every designer in the business knows, but its nice to hear them from someone else.

    Thanks,
    R

  • http://donpatricio.com Oz

    Great piece of advise..

    I’ve been without a “real” job for almost 6 months.. trying to think what went wrong..

    Suddenly I read this article and realize, maybe it’s time to move on to a different thing. Focus a little more on myself and stop thinking for others.

    Thanks Bill !!

  • http://donpatricio.com Oz

    Great piece of advise..

    I’ve been without a “real” job for almost 6 months.. trying to think what went wrong..

    Suddenly I read this article and realize, maybe it’s time to move on to a different thing. Focus a little more on myself and stop thinking for others.

    Thanks Bill !!

  • http://www.lainlee3design.com Lain3

    This is crazy! I’ve been in a lull this past week. Before that, I was swamped and then it suddenly stopped! You know, as a freelancer, I’ve learned and often heard that it’s either “feast or famine”, and going thru a famine really effects you psychologically, creatively, and emotionally. This article has really given me some great ideas, and reaffirmed my decision this week to create some new promo material and help a family member out with her website! I was turned on to Go Media about 2 months ago, and am so thankful for their invaluable advice! Rock on y’all!

    Peace.

  • http://www.lainlee3design.com Lain3

    This is crazy! I’ve been in a lull this past week. Before that, I was swamped and then it suddenly stopped! You know, as a freelancer, I’ve learned and often heard that it’s either “feast or famine”, and going thru a famine really effects you psychologically, creatively, and emotionally. This article has really given me some great ideas, and reaffirmed my decision this week to create some new promo material and help a family member out with her website! I was turned on to Go Media about 2 months ago, and am so thankful for their invaluable advice! Rock on y’all!

    Peace.

  • peter

    great article. who doesnt hate being in lulls?!

  • peter

    great article. who doesnt hate being in lulls?!

  • Terry

    what if i get really good at a game, then does it count?

    i’ve been in a rut for a while now.

    thanks.

  • Terry

    what if i get really good at a game, then does it count?

    i’ve been in a rut for a while now.

    thanks.

  • http://www.4muladesign.com Designaholic

    Fantastic article, I can fully relate to this. I spend my lulls drumming up new business, doing seo and personal work…and what you said always happens – you are just getting into something nice and BANG new projects arrive!

    Gotta love the creative industry :)

  • http://www.4muladesign.com Designaholic

    Fantastic article, I can fully relate to this. I spend my lulls drumming up new business, doing seo and personal work…and what you said always happens – you are just getting into something nice and BANG new projects arrive!

    Gotta love the creative industry :)

  • G Zoli

    Great Article!

  • http://www.carlosmosqueda.com Carlos

    Thanks for the article. I have been in a lull for sometime now. I need to get cracking on learning PHP and such. That and the lull has been because of a lack of work. Not really anything for about 4 months since I left my home state. Getting clients and a good design job has not been in my cards lately. Thanks for the article. It will get me back in gear.
    P.S. Take a look at my site. Any advice would be much appreciated.

  • http://www.carlosmosqueda.com Carlos

    Thanks for the article. I have been in a lull for sometime now. I need to get cracking on learning PHP and such. That and the lull has been because of a lack of work. Not really anything for about 4 months since I left my home state. Getting clients and a good design job has not been in my cards lately. Thanks for the article. It will get me back in gear.
    P.S. Take a look at my site. Any advice would be much appreciated.

  • G Zoli

    Great Article!

  • http://sevenpo7nt.deviantart.com tk

    im digging this..i needed this..thanks go media

  • http://sevenpo7nt.deviantart.com tk

    im digging this..i needed this..thanks go media

  • http://www.digital-artist-toolbox.com D.A.T.

    Great article thank you!

  • http://www.digital-artist-toolbox.com D.A.T.

    Great article thank you!

  • B

    Indeed many times you get a lull without knowing it, but the thing is to keep working either on your own stuff (like learning something new) or gettin’ around to find a new client to work with.

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • B

    Indeed many times you get a lull without knowing it, but the thing is to keep working either on your own stuff (like learning something new) or gettin’ around to find a new client to work with.

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • http://www.swavdesignstudio.com Dj Soundwav

    Very encouraging. Seems like these “lulls” happen to more of us designers than I thought. Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.swavdesignstudio.com Dj Soundwav

    Very encouraging. Seems like these “lulls” happen to more of us designers than I thought. Keep up the great work!

  • Nebomax

    Man! At least I don’t have to feel like a real loser anymore! Great tips! Now to remember them and try apply them. Thanks

  • http://www.loveinventions.com Ryan

    Brilliant, thanks for that.

    Sometimes just taking 5-10 minutes to re-motivate yourself is enough. Remind yourself of why you do what you do and the joys it can bring you.

  • http://www.loveinventions.com Ryan

    Brilliant, thanks for that.

    Sometimes just taking 5-10 minutes to re-motivate yourself is enough. Remind yourself of why you do what you do and the joys it can bring you.

  • Nebomax

    Man! At least I don’t have to feel like a real loser anymore! Great tips! Now to remember them and try apply them. Thanks

  • bgr

    “Got a blog? Write an article you think people would like”

    So you’re in a lull now? I hope you feel better now :)

    Nice article BTW. We all knows, what’s a “lull”. Anyways, nice to know that we are not alone with it. Thanks man.

    A little add-in: when I’m lack of creativity, could be helpful to browse other guys works for a little inspiration.

  • bgr

    “Got a blog? Write an article you think people would like”

    So you’re in a lull now? I hope you feel better now :)

    Nice article BTW. We all knows, what’s a “lull”. Anyways, nice to know that we are not alone with it. Thanks man.

    A little add-in: when I’m lack of creativity, could be helpful to browse other guys works for a little inspiration.

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  • http://mrenteria.com mike

    whenever I am in a “lull” I bust out my digital camera and go on a photo hunt, then I create a mock of a album cover for a fake band with the pictures i just took. usually works.

  • http://mrenteria.com mike

    whenever I am in a “lull” I bust out my digital camera and go on a photo hunt, then I create a mock of a album cover for a fake band with the pictures i just took. usually works.

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  • Marius

    Huh, you got me with this article, i am in the same possition right now.

  • Marius

    Huh, you got me with this article, i am in the same possition right now.

  • http://www.hypeelite.com Erika

    Love the article. Especially the “contact their art director” bit.

  • http://www.hypeelite.com Erika

    Love the article. Especially the “contact their art director” bit.

  • rori

    thank you so much for this article. Ive been in a lull for the past few days. like there was no motivation/inspiration that came in at all. I just sat and surf. But now, i have to re-focus myself..well actually that will be tomorrow cuz i have to get a good night sleep. =)

    thanks.

  • rori

    thank you so much for this article. Ive been in a lull for the past few days. like there was no motivation/inspiration that came in at all. I just sat and surf. But now, i have to re-focus myself..well actually that will be tomorrow cuz i have to get a good night sleep. =)

    thanks.

  • http://www.digitalskratch.com Josh

    Very good article! The last two points especially ring true for me. I would periodically email old clients just to say hello and check in. As a result of that they decided to come back to me for work, 2 of them for project stuff and the third for long term on going work.

    I was also in a design lull from New Years up till now. Luckily my monthly maintenance work is enough to keep busy and cover all the bills, but I didn’t have any “new” things going on. Then all of a sudden within a week I had like 5 new sites come in.

    Like you guys said the key is to keep forging on and it’s a perfect time to get your own systems tight.

    Can’t wait to see your new offices!

    Thanks, Josh

  • http://www.digitalskratch.com Josh

    Very good article! The last two points especially ring true for me. I would periodically email old clients just to say hello and check in. As a result of that they decided to come back to me for work, 2 of them for project stuff and the third for long term on going work.

    I was also in a design lull from New Years up till now. Luckily my monthly maintenance work is enough to keep busy and cover all the bills, but I didn’t have any “new” things going on. Then all of a sudden within a week I had like 5 new sites come in.

    Like you guys said the key is to keep forging on and it’s a perfect time to get your own systems tight.

    Can’t wait to see your new offices!

    Thanks, Josh

  • Frances

    Your article was right on. My daughter and I are both freelance designers that work in the textile industry and are used to crushing deadlines. The down times are what gets to you!
    She has worked for herself for 15 years and I have been at it for 30 or more but we both have experienced what you have described. If I slow
    down for a week it takes me at least 3-4 days of warming up to get past the first tight, stiff and usually pretty bad designs. And this has happened for 30 years! Loved your article.

  • Frances

    Your article was right on. My daughter and I are both freelance designers that work in the textile industry and are used to crushing deadlines. The down times are what gets to you!
    She has worked for herself for 15 years and I have been at it for 30 or more but we both have experienced what you have described. If I slow
    down for a week it takes me at least 3-4 days of warming up to get past the first tight, stiff and usually pretty bad designs. And this has happened for 30 years! Loved your article.

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  • Daquan

    Wow, I love the articles on this website, keep it up. I too get into design lulls, I did not know what happened but something just felt wrong. Now I know why and how to approach the situation.

  • Daquan

    Wow, I love the articles on this website, keep it up. I too get into design lulls, I did not know what happened but something just felt wrong. Now I know why and how to approach the situation.

  • http://thegorillaadagency.com web_design_missouri

    Well Lulling about wont get the job done, thanks for the atricle. One thing you didnt mention was hiring a consultant. I dont know if they are out there, but a guy who when in full-lull yells at you like a personal trainer. “what re you doing” “you lazy designer” “one more project and your done, sissy!” You know that sort of thing.

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle