Creative Constraints: Working Inside the Box.

Thinking Inside the Box

To a non-creative it may seem that a blank canvas with unlimited possibilities would be incredibly inspiring. Yet for most creatives, the reality is just the opposite. Nearly all creative projects are guided by constraints. It’s one of the fundamental parts of design that is rarely considered: working inside the box.

When we talk about design we sometimes forget about the factors that guide and influence the outcome of a project. Giving a designer complete creative freedom isn’t feasible or realistic for many clients. Whether it’s a timeline, budget, or designing for a target audience, restrictions come in a number of forms. Whether you like them or not, these restrictions are always a factor. But here’s the good news: constraints can actually create better design.

As the famous architect and furniture designer Charles Eames once said: “design depends largely on constraints,”—ultimately it’s our creative ability to work within or around these parameters that determines the outcome of a project. Exercising creative skill to transform your “box” into a final product that that is effective and visually appealing to the intended target audience is key. But why exactly are constraints beneficial?

  1. Constraints eliminate decision fatigue. We’re conditioned to think that more choice is always a good thing. However, studies have discovered something called decision fatigue. Starting a project with a set of rules or guidelines in place can alleviate this and actually help you make decisions faster (like what size to design a booklet), allowing you to spend more creative energy on the elements of a project that require the most work. In my experience, when comparing projects that were completely open-ended and others that came with constraints, I can safely say that starting with parameters speeds up the creative process and eliminates the initial paralysis that sometimes happens when staring at a blank canvas at the start of a project.
  2. Constraints allow us to generate more ideas. Studies done on creativity demonstrate that when options are limited people generate more (and often better) creative solutions . These constraints can help us think more intensely about ideas that will work within these restrictions. Since constraints limit the amount of creative possibilities, you are able to hyper-focus on the task at hand and generate numerous ideas within your limitations, rather than spend your creative energy bouncing from one concept to another with unlimited possibilities.

Realizing that creative constraints give us the building blocks to work with is key for understanding that limitations don’t mean limiting creativity. No matter how tightly constrained we feel, the world is filled with great design derived from limited resources and elements. Embrace working inside the box.

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