The value of constraints
I recently spent a family weekend near the Adirondack Mountains in New York. It was the middle of winter, the weather barely got above 20-degrees during the few days I was there and snow still covered much of the ground. So, what was I doing during this weekend getaway? I was zipping down waterslides!
You read that right, it was a frigid weekend in winter, but thanks to the genius that dreamt up the concept of an “indoor waterpark,” I had a great summer-like weekend and was reminded of the amazing things one can design when they are properly constrained.
Constraints Create Focus
When you think about it, the concept of an indoor waterpark makes a lot of sense, especially in an area like New York where waterslides cannot be enjoyed year round due to the change of seasons. This is an example of constraints (the arrival of cold weather) fueling creativity and innovation to create a solution that works within those constraints.
As web designers, our clients present us with constraints all the time – from their poorly designed logo which we have to integrate into a new website design, to the unfortunate corporate colors they use to the typefaces, taglines, photos or content that they insist be used on their new site. Constraints and website design go hand in hand.
It's easy to complain about these challenges and dream about what a joyous world it would be if we were not hindered in such a way, but constraints are a good thing. Constraints give you focus and a starting point in your design. Without constraints, you are looking at a blank canvas. As inviting as that may sound, there are few things scarier than a blank canvas. When the possibilities are endless, the possibilities can be daunting.
An Epiphany on the Waterslides
My visit to the waterpark couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just started working on a new project and I was in full-on complaining mode as I struggled with the design, trying to figure out how to incorporate a bad color palette and an even worse logo design.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I had an epiphany while riding waterslides. At the risk of sounding crass, the realization I came to was that I needed to stop my bitching, because my complaining wasn’t helping me get anything done.
Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?
Reminded of the Obvious
I’m sorry if you were hoping for some magical trick that I discovered to turn bad client logos into shining works of graphical design. No such solution exists. But even though my epiphany may seem like an obvious one, we often need to be reminded of these obvious truths.
As web designers, we tend to get so wrapped up in learning new ways to better use the tools at our disposal – from software packages, to HTML5, CSS3 and more, that we sometimes forget simple truths such as “bitching about the problem doesn’t help you solve the problem.”
Again, it may be obvious, but it was exactly what I needed to be reminded of to make progress on this design project – and I have an indoor waterpark to thank for this reminder.
“How” Instead of “Why”
Returning from my trip, I opened my design file and took a look at what I had so far. Not too much.
Changing my mindset, I began to ask “how” instead of “why.” Instead of wondering “why do they have such a bad logo” or “why do I have to use these damn colors”, I focused on thoughts like “how can I use this logo effectively” or “how can I get this color integrated best.”
Getting rid of the negative mindset and using the constraints before me as guides rather than viewing them as roadblocks allowed me to make progress. Before I knew it, the design was taking shape and looking good – and you know what, the logo didn’t look so bad after all.
You can’t control constraints, whether they are the ones imposed upon you by clients or those presented by browsers, devices, screen resolutions or any of the multitude of others constraints web designers have to contend with daily. The sooner you accept this lack of control, and begin to work within those constraints instead of against them, the closer you will be to getting some actual work done.
So what’s the moral of my story?
- Constraints give you focus and can be a good thing if you treat them as guides instead of roadblocks.
- When presented with constraints, don’t waste time bitching about them. Instead, put that energy into figuring out how best to work within those constraints.
- Waterparks kick ass – whether they are indoors or outdoors.