Try doing something else

Or, how crop rotation makes you a better designer

Our visual designer looked at me with resignation. “I’m tired. I’ve been on this design problem for three days, and I’m not getting anywhere.”

“Rotate your crops.”


“Rotate your crops. Try doing something else.”

Those of us who work in jobs that require creative thinking find ourselves tanked out often. We push 50 hours a week (or more), but often at the cost of renewing our creativity.

In agriculture, something similar happens when you plant the same crop over and over again. For example, corn consumes nitrogen from the soil but does not put it back. If you plant corn over and over again, it will deplete the available nitrates, and successive crops will have diminishing returns.

But crop rotation alleviates that. Planting a crop like soybeans or alfalfa every few years restores the nitrogen to the soil. And the corn planted in the same field next year is healthier with higher yield.

What does crop rotation mean for people in creative fields? It means varying your creative work. Lay down one piece of visual work and pick up another. Or research design. Or even switch creative work altogether.

The idea behind The Month Of Blogging Rantily is to push myself creatively, but not in the ways I’d been creative in my career as a designer. A long year working on a huge design project left me creatively dry, with diminishing returns on effort. During the long year, writing was something I’d neglected. So, I decided to spend a month on a writing project in hopes of restoring my creative soil.

The crazy thing is, it’s worked almost too well. I’m writing almost daily, and the more I write, the more I think how to sharpen my UX skills. How to improve my process. How to better myself.

It’s also led me to ask why we don’t do this more. Why don’t we break up long periods of project work with research, or study? Why don’t we rotate our jobs so we’re not doing the same thing all the time?

Academia has the sabbatical. Where’s the equivalent in design?

The visual designer switched to another piece of design work for a day. When he was done, he found himself able to pick up the previous design he laid down and drive it to completion.

And with that, “rotate your crops” entered his language — and the vernacular of the team.

Sometimes, we just need to plant some creative alfalfa for a season.

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