Being Productively Creative—Artist vs. Designer

 Oct 4, 2021 ·  4min read

Music Design Innovation

Have you ever experienced “writer’s block” or “masterpiece syndrome?” Here’s some advice on how to frame your mind, get into problem solving and be productively creative.


Maybe this situation seems familiar: You want to create original work and simply don’t know how to get started.

Whether it’s the composer who wants to write a piece of music; an author who wants to write an article; or a painter who wants to draw an illustration—at some point, we all start with a blank canvas. The software in front of us patiently waits to receive our genius inputs.

The tools are there but just like the switched off light bulb, the idea isn’t quite brilliant yet

The task to start filling the void is daunting if the objective is to produce something outstanding, something exceptional. And who doesn’t want to create their truly best piece of music, article, or illustration?

However, the first step and every step afterwards could be steps towards mediocrity. And that’s not the goal. Each step needs to be perfect to achieve perfection.

Before we know it, our creativity and inspiration are disabled by our high expectations. We have writer’s block or masterpiece syndrome. If we’re expected to be creative and productive in a given timeframe, this is a real challenge.

There are many suggestions on how to get out of this funk. Most of them are rather superficial. Yet, in my experience, one advice in particular seems to work sustainably:

Reframe Your Mind 

The cause for our self-imposed block is our wrong focus. We concentrate on ourselves. We strive to be the best painter, the best author, the best composer, and to deliver nothing less than a masterpiece. We want to earn respect and admiration of other composers, authors, and painters.

In other words: It’s all about us.

To shift your focus, define a new frame of mind: Think of yourself as designer from now on.

  • No, you’re not a painter anymore. You’re a graphics designer now.
  • No, you’re not an author anymore. You’re a text designer now.
  • No, you’re not a composer anymore. You’re a music designer now.

Why the distinction?

Design serves a specific function and solves a specific challenge for a distinct group of users.

All of the sudden our creation is exclusively about our users—and not about us creators anymore. We need to solve a challenge for them. The focus has shifted dramatically. Design is still about beauty and aesthetics, of course, but at the same time about practicality and reliability, too.

Get Into Problem Solving 

After shifting our focus to the users of our designs, we can start in a more practical way. We can ask questions like:

  • What function is my design supposed to serve exactly?
  • What challenge is it supposed to solve?
  • Who exactly is supposed to benefit from the design?

The answers to all of these questions will narrow down the spectrum of design decisions. If your graphics design is to convey a specific attitude, some colors and shapes are better suited than others. If your text design is to cater for a specific audience of readers, some verbs and adjectives are better understood than others. If your music design is to evoke a specific emotion, some instruments and harmonies work better than others. And so on…

All of the sudden, the blank canvas doesn’t feel so empty anymore. At the very least, you’ve now collected practical suggestions and inspirations to get started with your design and solve the challenge.

The benchmark isn’t anymore if other composers, authors, or painters are impressed. Your users are now the judge if your design worked for them. Did they feel the emotion in your design? Did they understand the message of your design? Did they associate the attitude with your design?

Whatever serves your users better, is better.

Consequences of a Reframed Mind 

Becoming a designer and primarily caring about what works for your users (and what doesn’t) will lead to a few things—besides less writer’s block:

  • You’ll get less specific feedback. Your layperson users will give you rather generic feedback about what worked for them and what didn’t. You’ll have to translate the inputs yourself into actionable improvements of your design.
  • You’ll become a better listener and observer. If your designs are to serve others than yourself, it’s an outside-in approach and you’ll to develop your external sensors.
  • You’ll discover that many of the most successful people of your profession act as designers, primarily serving others. Which in turn could mean that success is a side-effect of this altruistic attitude.
  • Youl’ll find that many others follow the self-serving inside-out approach, not making the same distinction as you do. This can provide a competitive advantage for you—or let you dispair if it’s someone you care about.
About the Author

Michael Schmidle

Business Transformation Manager at the Swiss Broadcast Corporation SRG SSR. Start-up consultant, hobby music producer and blogger. Opinionated about technology, strategy, and leadership. In love with Mexico. This blog reflects my personal views.

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