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Design Constraints

August 22, 2009

In a previous blog post (“Designers are Metaphysical Mathematicians”), I acknowledged that there will usually be aspects of a design project which are not subject to alteration–what you might call “design constraints.”  Clients will have certain strict requirements which must be delivered exactly as requested (whether that be a specific design feature, or perhaps just the overall purpose of the product requested).  The aspects of the design which can be altered–which can be regarded as “variables” in the design problem–are where the designer’s creativity is allowed to, and is expected to run free.

Some projects will have more design constraints than others.  As an example, consider the layout of Facebook.  It is a pretty static website, which largely prevents users from enacting personalized website layout.  Because of this, it would not seem that there is much room for creative customizability of your Facebook profile.  Contrast this with MySpace, which does allow more customization…  though it is important to state the fact that Facebook’s layout beats 99.99999% of MySpace users who take profile design into their own hands (small factions of people who have not explored MySpace may still dispute this).  Perhaps this is even a reason for Facebook’s dominance?

I asked myself this question: what is there within Facebook which I can work with–or regard as a design variable–in order to put a creative spin on an otherwise ubiquitously uniform layout?  Here are two things I implemented:

Varying photo album contents, within the layout constraints of Facebook’s photo albums:

Click 'Back to Album'

Varying my profile picture, within the context of the Facebook profile page:

Profile Picture_cropped

The take-home message of the “Designers are Metaphysical Mathematicians” essay is demonstrated here: creativity is unleashed when a designer views aspects of a system or design problem as variable.  Later, I plan to write more about the nature of “design constraints,” since they serve as the standard by which a design can be considered a success or failure (so, they’re kind of important).


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