Restrictions Breed Creativity

One of my favorite things about being a graphic designer is that, when I'm not in meetings, I can hang out at my desk and rock out. Today I had the urge to listen to a little White Stripes — my all-time favorite band.

As I was listening and working away, I remembered the interview with musician and former White Stripes frontman Jack White shown in the video above. I first heard about it through my art director who was describing how the often ridiculous restrictions set forth by clients can yield some of the most creative results. 

Restrictions are, by nature, uncomfortable. No one truly likes being told what to do. And, of course, no designer wants to hear that their beautiful design was rejected for an unfounded reason. Take, for example, when a design is rejected because the client is certain it contains an "excess" of white space.

Designers know that white space is used liberally for a reason — to allow breathing room between elements making content quicker to digest and easier to retain. Clients, on the other hand, don't know this. They would prefer to get as much content on a page as possible and have that content be as large possible. They also don't know that this approach is counterproductive.

After feedback like this, it's the designer's job to educate the client. Some clients will understand and concede. But, what happens when a client simply won't back down? Well, in my experience, one of two things:

One, the client could insist — no matter what — that they know best and that their unwarranted restrictions — giant type and no trace of open space — are necessary. (Your prestigious and hard-earned degree in design? Yeah, it means nothing.) In these instances, designing becomes — as White explains in the video above — just work. You do what you have to do to create a decent design. Maybe something inspiring comes out of it, but maybe not.

Or, two, the client could be persuaded to see things in a different light. This scenario is a beautiful opportunity for compromise and creativity. Sure, you must abide by the restrictions set forth by the client — a.k.a. make them happy — while also upholding the principles of good design. But, there is opportunity to work within these restrictions to create something lovelier and more usable than before.

This is the scenario about which Jack White speaks when he says "restrictions breed creativity." The moment when you, the designer, can choose to throw everything out the window and start fresh. When restrictions, oftentimes thought of as unfavorable, can become catalysts to greater things.

— video found via Brave the Woods