Constraints and creativity

It is said that constraints are good for creativity. As soon as you make a decision about what direction to go, you are ruling out other options and constraining yourself in some way. Or, to look at it the other way, as soon as you impose constraints, you are making a decision about what direction to go.

Sometimes this decision/constraint process is done without even thinking about it. For example, a blogger might decide that each blog post

  • should be understandable without any special technical knowledge
  • should be under 750 words (all except for one)
  • should have a single main point

and may not have consciously thought about these things until trying to make a list of constraints in a blog post.

But to get to the single main point of this blog post, it is surprising how severe the constraints can be and still produce creative results.

A commonly-used definition of a haiku (at least the one I remember) is that it must have seventeen syllables split as 5/7/5. This would seem to be a serious constraint, yet much has been done with this form. One could even attempt to write a sort of parody of a haiku. Apparently nowadays the English-language haiku rules have been changed, but the haiku form is still quite constrained.

Fonts are complicated things. In the olden days I used to hand-letter things following the proper typographical rules of proportion and such. But who would have thought that being limited to the lines in this grid:

Grid for gridfonts

The grid for gridfonts

that one could make such a wide variety of fonts with distinct styles such as these?

Once upon a time, people recorded songs on records. Somewhat before my time, 78 RPM records could only hold one song. Before the days of multitrack recording studios, the musicians had to record music all at once in one take, and sometimes they would run out of time and have to speed up near the end in order to fit the entire song on the record. But that’s not much of a constraint on length compared to this well-known highly-constrained example!

One thought on “Constraints and creativity

  1. One of my friends writes Haiku and was inspired by the idea of writing a Haiku that was also a 5 word fiction and rhymed. That’s tough, can you imagine the satisfaction he’ll feel if he achieves this!

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