Constraint = Opportunities

‘Constraint’ is somewhat of a strange word to me. On a superficial level the word seems to connote such negativity – all about limits and restrictions.

However, from a designer᾿s point of view, “constraint” often plays a critical role in our creative process. Constraint comes in all forms and each project comes with its unique set of constraints. Budget. Material. Size. Time. Typography. Colour…and the list goes on. The more constraint, the more interesting and challenging the project becomes. When designing without a set of limitations I often feel lost and struggle to find a focus.

T.S. Eliot once mentioned in his essay on the subject of writing that when “forced to write within a certain framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, however, the chances are good that the work will sprawl.”

It seems to be the same for painting. I make the comparison because I also love to paint. Through painting I get to explore my other passion — colour. There is just something about colour that’s really intriguing. Whether it’s physically mixing paints with a paint brush or choosing colours electronically on the screen with a click of a mouse.

And to push myself from being too comfortable, I work on colour studies. For each colour study I squeeze out a fresh set of colours that I normally wouldn’t use together. The portions of each of the colours vary. The goal is to use up all of the available colours on the palette (nothing more, nothing less) in one composition. I repeat this process until the sun goes down. This seemingly mundane and restricting exercise is surprisingly liberating. It forces me to experiment with colour combinations that are unpredictable and to dream up compositions that are unexpected.

This discomfort pushes me forward and prevents me from taking the obvious path. Embrace constraint and it will lead you to new possibilities and discoveries.