Constraints

This article has been a long time coming. Amber has been asking me to write a blog entry for months. And I’ve been politely saying yes, and then somehow conveniently forgetting and/or procrastinating. She was kind enough to let me know there was no rush, just that she hoped I would contribute to the blog, be it a paragraph, a list or an article.

Therein lay the problem. I didn’t have the constraints to deliver a certain word limit within x number of days.

Everything that I do everyday at DesignStamp comes with some type of constraint. Be it budget, as in time or money, or resources, as in who can fill the role I need at that moment in time. Time and money are very similar; both are finite and each has (or should have) a direct relationship with the depth and breadth of scope of work that is to be done. Resource constraints are also limited to the thickness of one’s address book, and come with their own set of constraints and challenges. But I digress. This article is about constraints. Getting to know them, and then embracing the good ones like a big ol’ smelly, slightly dirty but familiar teddy bear.

As designers, we are hard-wired to work within constraints. Every designer is constrained by the limitations of the media they are designing for. For example, a web designer understands the importance keeping page load times and browser quirks in mind. A motion designer who doesn’t ‘˜get’ title-safe or layer management is doomed and similarly a corporate identity designer, who doesn’t check for how a color will shift across all media, will live to regret the choice of ‘˜that’ red. Architects have to think of laws, both man made (e.g., city bylaws) or natural phenomena (e.g., gravity and it’s effects upon mass). Digital design is no different.

Other design constraints are not so black and white. For example, a color is not just color. It stands for different things to different people. So how/why you choose a color, or how your client decides what design to approve, may be impacted by cultural symbolism. Even your choice of design stream to focus on may be impacted by whether you are a boy or a girl. Women tend to shy away from becoming industrial designers, and web development, from early on, has been a male dominated profession. A gender constraint, either imposed by society or self-imposed, is still a constraint.

If we believe that good design comes from evaluating all choices and then choosing the most appropriate, are we even able to examine all choices equally, and objectively? What are you innately attracted to, and what naturally repels you? These are your constraints. For good or for bad, constraints can sometimes drive action and, at other times, limit choices. Get to know thyself just as much as you get to know your technical chops, and you will be much more successful in being able to be a ‘free-er’ designer. Free-er of stuff that holds you back, or limits your choices. Some constraints are real, and others are illusions. It’s part of our journey as designers, to figure out what makes us tick.

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