Less is more

Freedom in limitations 

I first learned about limitations when I took a music composition class in college. It seem liked I went through a ream of manuscript paper retrying to write that first piece. It was a frustrating week—I didn't know where to start and where to end or what to do in the middle. On the due date I handed my wrinkled score to the professor. He looked at for a few moments and then he said something that I'll never forget, "You didn't have to use all 88 notes of the keyboard. Next time just use...ah...17 keys, and the next time another 17!" With 24 tonalities, a dozen modes, and 88 notes on keyboard at my disposal, I had to learn to limit myself to a key, a range of notes, a group of instruments. Bottom line, limitations give freedom to the artist.

Too much freedom

It's like giving too many toys to a child—too many choices—they don't know which one to play with and then go from toy to toy, and finally end up frustrated (I have witnessed this first hand with my own children). I once heard a story, don't know if it's just urban myth, but it makes a great point. School administrators noticed that the kids on the playground would congregate and press up again the fence. It looked like they needed more room. So, they took the fence down. The kids huddled in the middle of the playground. Why? They needed needed the freedom of the boundaries. It's a paradox, I know.

Design boundries

As designers we choose practical boundaries: grids, color palettes, typefaces, even page sizes. When we do this we don't have to worry about all the other grids, or colors, or typefaces. We know they'll be there next time. And in the meantime, we can concentrate on the task at hand—getting the message across without all the baggage.

Keeping it simple

When I'm struggling with a design, I start taking stuff away—maybe concentrate on a single typeface, a single weight, a single color, or a simpler grid. Something wonderful happens—I see things about that typeface I never noticed before, and I discover how to use it efficiently and effectively. Like the great chefs who don't have to smother the entree with a heavy sauce or lots of spices. They just prepare the entree with perfection, bringing out the natural flavor, letting it speak for itself (I love food metaphors).

So, next time you design yourself into a corner, save yourself some frustration. Eliminate a  typeface, delete a color, take out some the rule line. Simply communicate your message as directly as you can.

Author: Brad

Tags: design, limitation, parameters