Reading Response Chapter 3

Laura Sch├╝tz

Chapter 3 - Visual Design

I am responding to "Principle 3.13 Invent Artificial Constraints" in Chapter 3 of Artful Design (page 121). (And I guess also to Principle 1.11 "Design is Constraints, which give rise to interactions and in turn aesthetics") I agree that the act of defining constraints is an important step when designing. When asking people if they believe designers should be limited in their thinking and creativity, intuitively the answer would be no. But the notion of constraints as an effective technique in design has been propagated for some decades. Otl Aicher, a former graphic designer at the Ulm School of Design, the most progressive educational institution of design in the 1950s and 1960s, made his students create graphics on a paper with an underlying grid. Thereby restricting the design to rigidly geometrized graphics. He himself is the king of pictograms and has designed more than 700 over the years. He is especially known for his pictograms of the different Olympic disciplines for the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.

So, what does all of this have to do with constraints? Otl Aicher imposed strict constraints on his designs, the rasterization, the colors, the proportions of the graphic. However, the outcome of these constraints - the pictograms - capture all kinds of human activities and situations in a comprehensive way. It shows that even if we impose constraints on our design work, there are still limitless options within this frame to express oneself authentically. I sometimes feel as though constraints make us more creative. They force us to come up with new ways and new angles on a topic and challenge our assumptions and thought patterns.

Another example that constraints such as time and tools can create a vast variety of ideas and individual expression is the very assignment that we are working on right now. For the Audio Visualizer project, we are all given the same tools, the same scripts to build on top of and the same timeframe. Still the student projects from the last years show how many different ways one can go starting with the same constraints. Constraints allow us to focus, they help us define a scope that is manageable. There is only ever so much complexity the human brain can circumnavigate at the same time and I believe constraints do just that within design. They allow us to think clearly and creatively. They reduce complexity and ambiguity. They set the frame (or grid in Aicher's case) for our design.