Limited Creativity: Part 2

In March, I talked about how limits are far more likely to inspire amazing work than “complete creative freedom.” Today we’ll take this idea one step further by exploring how you — the client — can create the ideal conditions — the right set of limits, if you will — for encouraging this higher level of creativity. And while I’ll use design as my example (it’s what I know best, after all), these ideas are just as useful for inspiring a writer, an engineer, a photographer, or any other type of creative person you work with.

Where does the “creative magic” begin?

It’s perfectly fair for you not to know, or not to be able to define, what the parameters should be for a given project. Luckily, a good designer can help walk you through the process.

Ideally, this starts with a conversation that clarifies exactly what you need. That objective will help align your expectations and those of your designer, laying the foundation for an effective — and creative — solution.


“Okay, who brought the coffee?”

Start the creative conversation

Once you know your objective, questions like these will help define the form the message will take:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Where do we find them?
  • What do we want them to do?
  • What’s the message?


Let the project shape the limits

After a bit of “blue sky” time, start narrowing the look and feel by diving into known parameters that are a bit more down-to-earth:

  • What’s the personality of the audience?
  • How will we reach them?
  • How do we want to portray our own personality?
  • Is there an existing logo and other branding we want (or need) to use?
  • Does the message need to relate to other pieces we have or plan to create?
  • Are there photographs or other images that need to be used?

Finally, channel your inner bean counter with questions like these to firm up an initial set of limits:

  • What’s the budget?
  • What’s the turnaround time?

This will help your designer determine how much time can be spent on research and how many concepts to produce.

Pushing the (#10) envelope

Throughout this process, part of the designer’s job is to challenge the parameters:

  • “Does it have to be a tri-fold?”
  • “Why should it be blue?”
  • “Do you need this much copy?”
  • “Tomorrow? Really??”

Questioning the parameters is the designer’s way of understanding what’s behind your directives. This helps him or her flesh out the framework — and to look for ways to push the limits.

Let’s say your finished product needs to mail in a #10 envelope with other materials or fit in a rack sized for tri-fold brochures. Okay then, maybe the solution is a tri-fold. But maybe it’s a single fold. Maybe it folds down to the size of a tri-fold but unfolds to a mini-poster.

This is just one example of how constraints begin to build the foundation for a successful design solution. It takes surprisingly little effort if you start with a collaborative conversation, and a good designer will help you figure everything out.


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