Designers Need To Be Told No

Designers complain about time sheets and schedule deadlines and I don’t blame them, but I believe they secretly yearn for those rules. Without being bothered by a project manager, designers have no way to measure their creativity and originality. When a designer is told she can’t do it that way is when her true brilliance shines.

When I was about ten or eleven years old, my mom taught me I must play their game if I want them to play mine. I didn’t know what she meant but 33 years later I think I figured it out. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything we create must live in the real world according to their rules. My mom was an elementary school art teacher and even though she taught the children how to bring their ideas to life on canvas or with clay, she taught them about the rules they must obey. It made me sad to think artists had to play by the rules but now it makes sense. If you play their game, they will play yours.

In the military, the “old guard” always told the young officers and enlisted troops to “shut up and color.” You always hear folks telling students to ” color in between the lines.” . That may be one of the reasons why in every generation you see counter cultures. There will always be people who do not want to play by the rules. Artists and designers tend to fit in this group and that is a good thing. When I am putting together a team, I want folks who like to color outside the lines because they test the boundaries which are necessary in order to keep the project moving forward. If you never test the limits of a project, you will never realize how far you can go.

Color In the Lines

Now I probably can’t rock the skinny jeans or canvas shoes or slicked back hair thanks to my “drive-in movie” forehead but I am completely in love with designers. Designers are the “makers” and “doers” that rely on creativity and originality to solve problems and improve lives. With so many rules though, it seems these folks are purposefully living outside the boundaries they vowed to leave behind so they can feel liberated and free to create ideas and prototypes nobody has seen before. It is that thinking I am in love with but i think it is necessary to still have boundaries, otherwise how are we to decide if the ideas or prototypes are original?

I have been told over and over again my military background does not make me creative. It makes me an automaton who follows the rules and never disobeys. Back at the Academy when I was in college, I asked a friend, with all things being equal, if the only difference between two resumes was where they went to college and one applicant graduated from Harvard and the other graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, she would always choose Harvard. I asked why and she said that applicant is probably more creative, I call bullsh*t.

Creativity and originality need boundaries to succeed. These boundaries create constraints that force designers to feel the stress they need to create brilliant ideas and innovations. Of course, it is not fun to have limitations and rules but what if those constraints are provided in an environment where people do not feel restricted? Can you combine the discipline of a soldier with the rebelliousness of a designer and create even more originality? How do you know something is original if you have nothing to compare it to? If you have an unlimited budget, is what you create truly the most sustainable prototype possible? With an unlimited budget, you run the risk of birthing a spoiled child that thinks the only way to solve a problem is with more money. With no deadlines, when do you know you are done or can move on to the next project?

Creativity needs boundaries in order to be happy. Boundaries create the “creative depression” all artists need to live in the real world.

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