The Ties That Bind

May 26, 2012 No Comments

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was when I was a sophomore in college, just starting to really delve into the graphic design program. I was working on my first two-color spread. I was very frustrated because I was having a hard time coming up with ideas. As an amateur designer I could only conceive design in the simplest terms; font, color, and placement.

I turned to my professor, and said. “This is impossible, there are too many restrictions! How am I supposed to come up with anything good?”

My professor looked at me and said. “Restrictions are good; they force you to be more creative. In the end you’ll make a better project.” Then he left without giving me any actual suggestions, jerk.

I persevered, and did eventually come up with a finished project, and damned if it wasn’t the best thing I had done up to that point. My professor was right; restrictions do lead to greater creativity. Sometimes when I find myself stuck on something, I’ll impose restrictions on myself. Believe it or not it works.

Why does it work? Well I personally believe there are two main reasons for this phenomenon. The first is that putting restrictions on your work makes it more difficult. Sometimes, when we’ve done the same thing a million times, we become complacent. We no longer put in the effort that it deserves, and we find ourselves coming up with sub-par solutions. By deliberately making the problem more difficult we force ourselves to rise above our own complacency. The canned stale ideas that have been working for us are no longer viable solutions. We have to turn on the creative engine, so to speak, and come up with brand new solutions. Since we’re working harder, we then start investing more into our ideas and holding ourselves to a much higher standard. That’s why the results tend to be so much better.

The second reason I believe this works so well, is that it focuses our creativity. The truth is with so many tools at our disposal there are millions of things that we could do. If there’s no clear direction we can sometimes get lost in the possibilities. We become restricted by the very freedom we all enjoy as artists. Sure you can create multiple spreads. Each might look radically from the others, but there’s always that nagging possibility that something else would look so much better. By adding restrictions we automatically cut out a large chunk of that potential white noise. If there’s suddenly a bunch of stuff we can’t do then we can stop focusing on it, and start focusing on how to refine the options that are available to us. In this way we can increase our focus, and spend more time refining our ideas into something that goes beyond good, and into the extraordinary.

So next time you find yourself stuck on an idea, try making up a set of restrictions for yourself. Perhaps that will help you come up with your next great idea. If you have any stories of your own, about how restrictions influenced your work I’d love to hear them. As always all opinions expressed are my own. See you next week!

Written by: Zach Gatliff

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