As product designers, it seems counterintuitive to say that imposing hard rules spark wild creativity, but it really does do the trick. It can lead to some great designs, products, and even great music.
In an recent interview with the folks at Sound Opinions, musician and famous music producer Brian Eno said that his process of creating new music starts by locking down some rules or constraints.
I notice that I work better when I try to specify as much as I can. Is there a deadline? When is it? How much am I prepared to spend doing this? I mean time and money. What do I intend to do with it when I finish? Is it going to come out as this or that and so on and so on?
Let's break this idea down:
- Constraints force a different way of approaching a problem. Eno points out that confining yourself and your problem forces you to be more novel in your solution. By doing so, Eno says you'll be forced to shake your preconceived notions and view your problem from several different angles.
- Constraints force you into timeboxing, where you continually limit what you're doing based on the availability of your time. By doing so, you'll actually focus on the result and get products made more quickly. Deadlines don't have to be debilitating and can actually work to your advantage.
- Constraints force you to say "no." Eno says constraints cut out a lot of possibilities. This isn't easy. Saying no is really hard. Contraints, however, help you self-edit. In other words, eliminate the crappy stuff before you waste your time on it. You'll find yourself being more innovative because you aren't worrying about accomplishing a billion things. As Steve Jobs says, innovation means saying "no" to a 1,000 things.
None of the rules are forever. The rules are really there to help you enjoy the game more. No game is fun if it doesn't have any rules. The reason we like games is that there are rules within which we can develop skills and sensibilities and ways of communicating with each other.