Do Constraints Unleash Our Creativity?.

Jonny Kelly

Jonny Kelly

Creative Director
Strategy, Creative and Curious

23rd April 2020Agency

The practice of limiting user actions on a system defines the concept of constraints in design.

The theory is that by limiting the actions that can be performed by the user, we increase the usability of the design and decrease the margin for error.

We often see our creativity challenged by constraints. Cajoled into being creative within circumstances which we wouldn’t normally have chosen.

Write a proposal within 5 sides of A4, max font size 12. Deliver a 30 sec elevator pitch. Describe yourself in 3 words. Deliver 3 weeks work in 1.

These constraints deliberately force simplicity and creativity and are used mostly for the purposes of efficiency and clarity. They also tend to be very good for revealing what you ‘really’ think is important.

Think about how Twitter made us get our point across within 150 characters or how Ryanair made us fit 2 weeks of holiday gear into hand luggage.

“A designer knows they have achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French Writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist and pioneering aviator)

Meeting the challenge

We are being challenged to work within constraints to solve big problems at present:

  • Protecting the physical and mental health of ourselves and our families,
  • Sustaining our businesses through an unprecedented global crisis of unknown duration,
  • Enabling our health service to do their job safely and effectively,
  • Finding viable treatments and a vaccine while the world watches and waits.

These problems are not solved by individuals. They are solved by people working together, playing their part in the optimum way within the constraints they find themselves.

‘Lets work the problem people. Don’t make things worse by guessing.’ Gene Krantz (Flight Director – Apollo 13)

There are less critical but still very important problems to solve during lockdown (or ‘The Great Pause’ as I heard someone referring to it). We must be creative within our new constraints to make life bearable and enjoyable. We have limited freedom, so we have no choice but to focus on making the choices we still have, as perfect as we can.

This is happening at both large and small scale

  • Nationally, the NHS and other front-line services are mobilising like never before and we are making our admiration felt from our doorsteps.
  • Capt Tom Moore has captured our hearts and generated huge amounts of cash to help support them.
  • Ant & Dec, Graham Norton, The MOTD Team and many more, are still entertaining us from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Sky Sports are managing to run round the clock news whilst virtually nothing is happening. (no change there then 😉)

We are connecting more with our colleagues at work (from home), and being more flexible and creative to help the cause. We are being more proactive than ever, bringing new ideas and agility.

Everyone is finding ways to use our homes and gardens differently to avoid monotony and boredom. Re-arranging, cleaning and tidying to make them as comfortable as possible.

Maximising the space and time we have for exercise. Using milk cartons as kettle bells, children as bar bells, gardens as running tracks.

We are focusing on calling our loved ones more often. Sharing important information and thoughts, but also finding new ways to connect through things we never thought we’d do. Dance challenges, virtual parties, online coffee mornings have become the norm. Welcome to the zoom generation! #zoomers

With the right motivation, creativity will find a solution to challenges of any scale.

It is in our nature to connect, progress and prevail.

Constraints just make us focus on making the most of what we have.

I hope we don’t forget that when lockdown is lifted and The Great Pause becomes The Great Play.

Thanks for reading! You can check out part one and two of our Notes from a Creative Agency series here.

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