Finding inspiration in the mundane

A few years ago I hit a creative block. Now, I know this is nothing new. Whether it’s a short block specific to a project or a longer period of burnout, everyone has those times where they’re feeling uninspired. I’ve certainly had my share of times where I felt it since then, but this particular block has stuck with me.

Back then I was working on Akismet, a spam-blocking service and WordPress plugin. The project at the time was to revamp the way stats were displayed. We wanted to provide more value to our users through the stats we showed. Specifically, showing a breakdown in what Akismet has actually done for the user in terms of spam vs. legit comments, missed spam, and false positives. It’s important to show what the service is automatically doing for the user to increase the perceived value of using it.

This was at a time when Akismet had its own brand, before the work to better unify products under the Automattic umbrella. Without much of a guideline to go on, I was feeling uninspired. I couldn’t focus. Nothing I was trying felt like the best way to lay out and visually represent the stats, filters, and graphs.

After struggling and trying to push through the creative block for a couple days I decided to take a step back from it. I vowed not to think about it at all over the weekend. That time was spent on keeping busy in other ways to keep my mind off these stats. Home improvement projects, playing music, and playing with my 2-year-old daughter.

There hasn’t been much experimentation into the idea of “shower thoughts” — getting random epiphanies or insights while taking a shower or doing other mindless routine tasks. Psychology has a theory that describes a mental state where you become less aware of your surroundings. This allows your brain to make connections between ideas outside of their cataloged context.

While playing blocks with my daughter, I had one of these flashes of inspiration. I noticed the way the colors of the blocks played with each other. It was a really nice color palette. I felt inspired. These would be great colors for the different types of stats. They were contrasting but still within the same tone to be pleasing to look at.

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I took one block of each color back to my desk when we were finished playing. The next time I returned to my desk I had inspiration. The creative block disappeared and I got into a nice flow where everything fell into place. To this day I still have those blocks on my desk as a reminder.

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If you look at the world around you — really look hard and pay attention — inspiration can be found everywhere.

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