the problem contains the solution

While reading Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, I ran across a quote by designer Michael Bierut. “The problem contains the solution.”

Often what seems like an obstacle in a creative project ends up inspiring brilliant designs that would not have been explored were the obstacle not there. In Michael Bierut’s case, the challenge was to create 15 foot tall signage on the exterior of the New York Times building in Times Square without obscuring the staff’s view from inside the building. Below are images of the result. Narrow strips making up the letters you see were cleverly added to the building’s current white ceramic rods used to shield windows from the sun. The result is a successful and unique branded presence for the building.

Being handed a project that is open ended in terms of time, budget or scope will often initially feel like a project full of freedom. Without the structure that these restraints provide, the project can soon become unfocused and will often take longer than traditional projects, as the team struggles to reign in messaging and design concepts. Often the lack of constraints is actually a symptom of an organization’s lack of specific goals related to a project, or their reluctance to fully commit to an idea or project.

We have run across this challenge before –  with our own self promotional projects in particular. Often the best solution is to add constraints where there are none. Creating a schedule and a project deadline where there is none is the simplest way to do this, but adding rules such as limiting the amount of colors used in a design or the number of messages being conveyed can add immediate structure to a project.

Some of our most creative projects have come about when we had limitations. With logo designs, it makes practical sense to design for just two or three colors. Print production is the deciding factor here. Not many want to splurge for full color letterhead, or multi-color embroidery on hats or shirts. Designing with this simplicity in mind has lead to a lot of great logo designs.

Consider this as you discuss your next project or create an RFQ. Creating limitations often goes hand in hand with creating focus, and everyone benefits from that.

Eric Shew is a graphic designer and front end developer living in Bellingham, Washington.

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