Boost your design process by using constraints

Design Methods 101: Designing with constraints.

You can boost your design process with constraints. You do it by putting up some challenges for your design team in order to consciously direct, focus and enhance the team’s creativity.

Putting up some challenges on your way can force you to try new things.


In the film ‘The Five Obstructions’ the filmmaker and writer Jørgen Leth and the filmmaker Lars von Trier explored how constraints can impact an artwork–in this case a film. Jørgen Leth was given the task to recreate his movie “The Perfect Human’, but with different constraints and rules from Lars von Trier. Some of the constraints were ‘shoot the film in Cuba’, ‘Shoot the film in Mumbai’s red light district’, ‘Shoot the film using only 10 second frames’ etc. There are multiple interesting aspects of this. Not only does the constraints boost Jørgen Leth’s own creativity. It also took him places he had never been and forced him to find solutions he never would have thought of.


We all know the overwhelming feeling of staring at a blank canvas. It’s right there. It’s waiting for you to put something on it. Be creative! But you can’t. You’re mind is blocked by the endless possibilities and you’re stuck in a choice paradox; I’ve got so many things I can do, but I can’t seem to settle on anything. This hinders creativity.

It’s no coincidence, that some of the world’s greatest innovation, has been born from situations with a lot of constraints. Just think of how many useful products we got out of the space program. ‘Space’ is full of constraints and it forced the engineers and designers to rely on their ingenuity, and reframe their perspective on things. They had to rethink and switch their mindset to get (functional) things into space. Designing with constraints forces us to think differently and guides us in doing so.


So, this is what you do the next time you find yourself staring at the blank canvas, or the white piece of paper at the end of your pen.

You put down your pen and start brainstorming on ideas for constraints. There are no dumb constraints. Make them as crazy as you want. Writing an article? Try to write the article using only 10 word sentences. Making a painting? Try to only use the color blue. Try to come up with at least fifteen constraints. Then sit down and evaluate the constraints. Finally, pick the constraints you find most suitable for your project. You should mix fun and realistic constraints with each other. Now let the constraints motivate you or your team, and let them guide your creative process.

Constraints can often be formulated into more defined problem statements. Like:

How might foreign exchange students meet Danes via the platform Instagram and with the use of Lipstick?

It sounds stupid, but you’ll be amazed what you’ll come up with if you stick to the constraints.

If you you want to know more about ideation, check out:


That’s all for now. Take care, Nils Oskar

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