design constraints for things you care about

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Creativity works best within some kind of framework. But have you ever noticed that when you right down some guidelines for things you actually care about, your written criteria seem anemic and pointless, without emotional charge, and you forget about the whole thing in a few hours?

You can have discrete, explicit design features that are still meaty, hefty, evocative, and unique to your situation.

Write down stuff that you think is awesome, cool, interesting, or relevant. Put each on a separate piece of paper. (I’m up to 20 pieces of paper on a current project and growing. Could be up to hundreds by the time I’m done.) On each piece of paper, make a “plus” column and a “minus” column.

So let’s say you wrote down a movie. In the plus column, write down stuff that fired you up about the movie. In the minus column, write down what was bad about the movie. Neither list is exhaustive, just what jumped out at you as relevant an important. Repeat this for all the other pieces of paper, the books, movies, authors, articles, blog posts, organizations, web sites, ideas, frustrations, observations, theories, techniques whatever. You’ll have a gazillion pluses and minuses.

You can now lift out large subsets of these pluses and minuses and use them as design constraints. You can use pluses and minuses individually, or you can notice abstractions composed of similarities across subsets and use those as more general constraints.

Some points:

1. Consider the generality of this technique for creating constraints–it’s not limited to theories of frameworks of what constitutes a constraint. It’s not limited to particular types of things that can be created.

2. Consider that you’re not designing using someone else’s rigid categories of good and bad. You’re creating your own categories albeit shuffling around other people’s stuff (you can add your own stuff too, of course), but you’re creating a framework to hold something rich, complex, and novel, that would have been very hard to create starting from a blank screen or piece of paper, say, when you only have a little bit of time each day and have no space in your life for creating momentum.

3. These constraints have heft. They’re meaty, vivid, evocative, because they’re tied back to concrete, rich experiences that you’ve had. You can look at a constraint weeks later and still FEEL what that constraint actually means. It’s still exciting and meaningful. You own these constraints in a unique and personal way. It’s your framework, and it’s robust to degrading over time or being influenced by pre-existing culture and other people opinions (unless you want to incorporate stuff from those things). So when you lift out those pluses and minuses, index them back to the original piece of paper(s) it came from. The pluses and minuses, these qualities or abstractions go back to concrete stuff. That’s how this has to work when you’re doing something new and you’re not using someone else’s symbols or design system.

3. How, how the heck do you manage these hundreds, if not thousands, of constraints/needs/requirements/awesomenesses and actual navigate all of this and not become numb or paralyzed at the sheer weight of it all? Or you feel like it’s impossible to manage all this stuff? Read this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Notes-Synthesis-Form-Harvard-Paperbacks/dp/0674627512/

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One thought on “design constraints for things you care about

  1. 1. There’s two “3″s

    2. “Creativity works best within some kind of framework. But have you ever noticed that when you right down some guidelines for things you actually care about, your written criteria seem anemic and pointless, without emotional charge, and you forget about the whole thing in a few hours?”
    right -> write*

    3. Thanks for restarting to post, will read this soon (am going through “Investigating Pristine Experience” now, after going through “Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being” and share thoughts. It seems to formalize something I had gotten close to, but never really figured out.

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