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!