Jan. 09, 2014

Beat the Blank Whitepage: 4 Ways to Shake the Syndrome

Attention UX Designers: Let's combat whitepage syndrome once and for all.

Every time I kick off a new project, I enter the room as confident as I have ever been. Like a soldier, I am armed to the teeth with everything from a mountain of Post-Its to my Creative Cavalry, ready to thwart any constraints thrown my way. There is no puzzle too complex to solve.

How to beat whitepage syndromeWhen I sit down in front of the computer for the first time, a completely different person inhabits my ego. White Page Syndrome has arrived. This version of myself does not have all the answers. This version of myself only has one thought:

What if I never have a good idea again?

With that bright white page taunting me from the screen, it is hard to argue with that logic. Heck, I don’t even know where to start when I have every option in front of me. Do I go for the global element that will be integral to the development of the site but painstaking to set up, or do I start by sketching that small piece I already have an idea for but am not sure how it will function in a vacuum. Maybe I should start by laying out the grids just to get some of the white off the screen?

13 minutes later, I have come to one conclusion: my desk/conference room/living room is dirty, and I certainly won’t be able to do any work until I clean it up. I need to remove all of the “visual clutter”, before I can concentrate. I tell myself that I can use this time to think about my plan of attack. 

17 minutes later, my space is clean and my mind is clear. While I still don’t have a fully articulated plan of attack I am relaxed in my surroundings and ready to jump in. I think to myself, “Why don’t I start with some good old fashioned sketching.” Something about the pencil feels less daunting. But as it hovers over the stark white paper, and the ideas neglect to pour out I feel as paralyzed as I did a half an hour ago.

9 minutes later, I need a cup of coffee. As it brews all I can think about is the tight deadline I am working against, and all the people who depend on me, as the first domino in the row, to hand something off to them ASAP so they can also get started working against their very tight deadlines.

4 minutes later, I am back at my desk and at this point the anxiety is at an all time high. As I sit there no further along than I was 43 minutes ago I wallow a bit in my paralysis.

Right then it hits me – the profile page and the homepage are the same thing! And just like that, in one Aha! Moment, the thoughts are pouring out of me quicker that I can jot them down. I have searched high and low for a cure for the white page syndrome and these four catalysts usually help me coax an Aha! Moment out of hiding.

1.     Change Your Location.
The number one way for me to beat analysis paralysis is to get some perspective. Physically changing my surroundings can usually shake the syndrome.

2.     Indulge in a Pick Me Up.
This usually involves me walking to the kitchen for an extra dose of caffeine. What helps me even more than the jolt is the ability to bounce my lack of ideas off of my co-workers. Actively listening to what others are working on can help me reshape my (lack of) direction.

3.     Bust Out The Pen and Paper.
From time to time the keyboard and illuminated screen are just too uninspiring. I have created a super awesome UX design room filled with pens, papers, markers, and sticky notes to help the juices flow.

4.     Start in the Middle.
Sometimes I have such a clear vision of the end but no path on how to get there. Instead of fighting this nonlinear approach, I embrace it and start in the middle or the end and work backwards.

Remember: While it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel while you are frozen in front of that glowing screen, not only will you have another great idea, but this idea will be born from all of your past successes and failures.
Each idea that you have after that will be incrementally better, because you have one more experience to draw from. I am not sure creative block ever fully goes away, but I’m not sure I would want it to. If it did, you would miss out on the incredible rush of cracking the case wide open.

So how do you get the white off the screen? Today I wrote this post!


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Molly Lee

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