Artemy Lebedev

§ 175. The virtue of limitations

November 18, 2012

More than anything else a designer needs limitations.

To prove this statement right let’s run an experiment. We’ll invite a designer and offer him all kinds of money.

— Will you do some design work for us for a very large sum of money?
— I’ll be honored.
— We have one request: we don’t want to limit you in any way.
— That is amazing, you’re my dream customer. All my life I was suffering from having my hands tied, but now...
— Excuse us for interrupting you.
— Most certainly. I’m all ears.
— Please provide us the best design in the whole world.
— A design of what?
— Our request was: no limitations.
— Aaa... Uuh... Hmm...

The designer’s brains explode.

There’s no creativity without limitations. The best design specimens arose as a result of painfully strict requirements. Modifier “the best” is applicable to a 60 by 90 cm two-tone poster announcing a certain band concert to take place in three days (so the job must go to the printers in four hours), printed on newspaper stock and using Baskerville typeface set at 72 points and incorporating such and such logo. Now, this is limitations, this is a real creative opportunity. A designer receiving such an assignment would do a good job, while a designer asked to do “the best something” would produce nothing.

When in their professional circles designers complain that a customer requested they “add some red” or “blow the logo up” it’s a typical example of ridiculous and unprofessional cowardice. A job can be done right with any combination of limitations. So the only thing for the customer to worry about is if he’s treated respectfully as a person and if his project is even interesting. Strict limitations could be and should be in place and in abundance.

The author’s personal experience was earned under very high pressure of the money being scarce and the demands unrealistically high. Instead of dwelling on the lack of financial means the author posed himself a question of how to do a good job under the current circumstances. The answer to this question is the result itself.

Knowledge: good design only exists within limitations.

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