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Embracing constraints: why restrictions often lead to better design

By January 30, 2020March 4th, 2020Uncategorized


By Eric Devericks, Chief Experience Officer

In 1972, legendary design duo Ray and Charles Eames released Design Q & A, a short film that lays out the Eames’ perspective on design and working with clients. When asked if design should concede constraints, Charles expertly turned the question on its head: 

“Design depends largely on constraints.”

In our work at EWI, every project has constraints. For example:

  • Exceptionally short timelines
  • Extreme space constraints
  • Ever-present budget restrictions

In our industry, I’ve heard designers and strategists alike boohoo clients for imposing too many constraints on their creativity. (“This project could have been really cool IF…”) In my estimation, such conversations are (at best) a waste of time and (at worst) toxic sludge that works against the design process. In reality, constraints are a strategist’s/designer’s best friend — for a few important reasons.

1. They encourage action

Without guide rails, strategists and designers can find themselves paralyzed by the sheer number of possible design outcomes — and without useful, non-subjective criteria to guide decisions. “Create an engaging experience?” What’s the timeline? What’s the budget? Where to even start?

2. They promote creative thinking

Constraints help give birth to new, creative ideas that wouldn’t come about any other way. For example, if space is a constraint, how can we create an experience that actually uses tight quarters to create a feeling of intimacy and honesty? I’d argue that they actually make a strategist’s job easier because they force us to explore directions we might not have thought of. 

3. They highlight the importance of design and thought

Working within strict parameters allows strategy and design to show their real worth. I’ve seen many a project where clients believed that (due to constraints) there was no viable solution. In these situations, constraints only heighten the impact of good strategy and design. The greater the challenge, the more impressive the solution.

So bring on the tight timelines, space constraints, budgetary restrictions and whatever other constraints you can dream up. We’re here to work wonders.