3 common types of creative constraint

3 common types of creative constraint

“Art lives from constraint and dies with freedom.”
— Leonardo da Vinci 

Why are constraints necessary?

One of the greatest challenges of being a creative person is finishing what you began.

It is all too tempting to start a million different ideas at the same time.

Is it a surprise then that you never seem to finish any of them?

One of the many paradoxes of creativity is that it requires both freedom and constraint.

In the beginning, you need the space to pursue whatever ideas your mind conjures up.

Left unchecked, however, this can easily become an unwieldy collection of thoughts. It can then be difficult to focus on developing something into the finished article.

It’s for this reason that constraints are necessary.

They force you to narrow down your options, to be decisive about the direction you want to head in.

Constraints come in different forms

The most common one is time. After all, this is what deadlines are for.

Setting yourself time to complete a project helps you avoid succumbing to Parkinson’s Law. This is the idea that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Have you noticed that when you’re not busy you seem to get less done? That’s Parkinson’s Law in effect.

Another constraint to consider is cost.

The idea of a limitless budget sounds attractive. However, in reality, it can be the opposite.

It gives too much scope for idea generation.

Working with a defined budget enables you to set aside unrealistic options and focus on the most promising ones.

Indeed, some of the most creative ideas come from limited budgets. As Ernest Rutherford once said, “We haven't got the money, so we'll have to think”.

One last constraint to bear in mind is that of form. 

A famous example of this involves the best-selling children’s author Dr Seuss.

One day, his editors bet him he couldn’t write a book using a limit of fifty different words. 

Undeterred, Dr Seuss accepted the bet and set about writing a story. The result was the popular book Green Eggs and Ham which has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Giving yourself a tight brief

Setting constraints at the start of your creative project is important.

Think about your budget, set yourself a clear deadline and narrow down a form to work with.

A tighter framework will always lead to better outcomes. As the wise man David Ogilvy once said, “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”.

Create more. Consume less.

Create more. Consume less.

Study the greats

Study the greats