Story Matters

On Craft

Navigating the Line

The Journey staff balances constraints and freedom.

Illustrator/musician/poet Andy Friedman, in this issue’s Q & A, says:

“Constraints are all relative. We’re free to leave our constraints anytime.”

He was referring to perceived constraints when it comes to living the life of an artist. Can the same be said about constraints within our professional creative work? How free are we to leave our constraints? Our staff weighs in.

Seth Nickerson

“This is obviously true with self-imposed constraints, and it’s technically true of extrinsic constraints too, provided you’re not talking about defying the laws of physics. In the context of designing for clients, if I want to deliver a project as a series of hand-painted posters three weeks after the deadline, they may be beautiful pieces on their own, but the client asked for a website three weeks ago and probably won’t be thrilled with the poster series, regardless of its aesthetic merit.

While we are free to ignore constraints, whether extrinsic or intrinsic, working within constraints is what design is all about. The trick is knowing which ones to ignore.”

Chris Tyree
Multimedia Producer

“There is a boldness in these words, an acceptance of the consequences that are sure to come. But also a freedom that comes with knowledge of self.

I’m a believer that taking calculated risks (and sometimes even uncalculated risks) is the only way to grow. When we push up and out of constraints, we go through a metamorphosis of spirit and mind; of grit, integrity and ingenuity. This is not rebellion but rather an acknowledgement that through self-reflection we come to an understanding that success hinges on our ability to navigate the line between constraints and freedom. 

We need to ask ourselves, are we taking risks by staying within constraints or bounding outside of them? Will the risks yield productivity, creativity, inspiration? Does being free to leave the constraints behind yield anything of particular significance at all?

At times, breaking free from constraints will, ironically, feel uncomfortable. We may sense the desire to recoil to the familiar. Sometimes we use constraints to give us order and security. But for those of us who do push beyond, in the moments when we are off our guide wires and floating in the ether of life, we are truly living and utilizing all our senses.”

Josh Bryant
Lead Web Developer

“Empowering at first glance, Andy’s sentiment strikes me as insufficient to hold value. It’s true that constraints are directly related to the circumstances from which they derive. He’s also right that constraints have no intrinsic power to bind us. However, we shouldn’t stop short of acknowledging an equally substantive truth: The exercise of freedom comes at a cost.

Cost-of-constraint decisions are commonplace in web development (my particular line of work). For example, typography on the web was limited to a few common font choices until just a few years ago. Of course, designers were always free to ditch that constraint; a popular alternative was (and still is) to embed type as images. However, that alternative comes at a premium: increased overhead involved in maintaining content; reduced accessibility for both human users and search-engine scrape-bots; larger file sizes and an extra HTTP request. Is the cost occasionally worth it? Absolutely. Is the constraint useful (even necessary) in making an informed decision? Absolutely.

As Andy says, constraints are relative. We are free to leave those constraints. But I’d do him one better: We are just as free when we abide by constraints. And we’re often wiser for doing so.”

Ashley Walton

“Working previously as an architect, I thought constraints meant the extra long list of ways to prevent injuring people. These constraints weren’t relative at all; they were realities born out of necessity. Graphic design comes with similar realities—though lives are not at risk, except for the occasional paper/pixel cut. 

A certain amount of sensitivity and consideration emerges within this process. Selfishness and ego must get checked at the door. 

I have a client. That client has resources, an audience and a goal. Those are just a few constraints. To work in ignorance of those constraints means to ignore the client. Other fields might have the luxury of ignoring clients and working purely for self. Graphic design is not one of them. Our job is to communicate effectively, and we need a client, their audience and a goal to run toward. Which might mean it comes at a cost to our egos. I’m sure a cookie and some beer can patch that up. 

In the midst of these constraints, I have found comfort. Being indecisive in nature, I find comfort knowing that certain things are off limits, while other things leave an expansive green pasture for exploration. Those boundaries actually give me great freedom and focus to not worry about choice. For that reason, I’ll stay fenced in.”