Exercising Constraint

April 13, 2012

By Tad Fry

Someone once asked me, “What makes a bad design?” Aside from using colors that don’t mix, not using a grid, or not applying negative space etc., this can happen if we don’t add constraints while designing. Art direction is giving yourself constraints and developing within them. If you deviate from these limits then you start to lose the feel of your project. Things start to not fit; it’s like trying to solve a puzzle with the wrong pieces.

Magnificent examples of applied constraint are Rogie King and Tim Boelaars. In an interview with Rogie, he says, “Give yourself a limitation.” You can see this in his shot, The Essentials of A Day in Disneyland Illustration, on Dribbble. By limiting use of certain colors he created wicked elements that fit well together. Had he used a different palette on any one element, then the work would seem off a bit. Tim applies the constraint of using one line weight, but don’t be fooled by this simple limit. Armed with one line weight, Tim builds amazing illustrations that are easy to discern. And we all know the easier something appears, the harder it actually was to make simple… it appears simple because he took the time to solve the problems which then communicates those elements to us easily.

How do you add constraints to a project? You can develop these as you listen to find the problems you are trying to solve. What limits could you apply to help you reach a solution? A company wants a consistent look using colors from their logo as you build their website. Determine which colors compliment and ground each other using the color wheel. Now, the somewhat difficult part; stick to those colors no matter what! Adhere to your constraints. Keep in mind when you’re developing your constraints they are also just an iteration. So don’t stumble over which ones to make… just make a few and try to apply them. If they’re not working out, then iterate to make new constraints.

Too often I’ll want to add to a design to make it better when in fact I should try to figure out what I can take away. Improving the work by applying the limits I first set forth to build the project. Referring to the constraints potentially makes the decision-making a lot easier. They should be a constant go-to in order to ensure your design is on the right track. Always seek the approval of your constraints; albeit a bit annoying, this referee will help you play out your design by abiding to your rules.

Are you up for the challenge? Then throw down some constraints and create within them on your next project. It’s amazing how much you can build by applying limits.