Design thinking within constraints

I’m currently reading ‘Change by Design‘ by Tim Brown. This particular paragraph on creating environments for “design thinking” and the importance of constraints stood out:

The willing and even enthusiastic acceptance of competing constraints is the foundation of design thinking. The first stage of the design process is often about discovering which constraints are important and establishing a framework for evaluating them. Constraints can best be visualized in terms of three overlapping criteria for successful ideas: feasibility (what is functionally possible within the foreseeable future); viability (what is likely to become part of a sustainable business model); and desirability (what makes sense to people and for people).

This stood out because of how closely it relates to discussions we have at work about the importance of a clear brief and maintaining work ‘flow’. Briefs are essential for a number of reasons, one being if you don’t provide the right information at the start of a project, and rigorously question the How?
What? and Why?, you’ll suffer for it during execution as you uncover unknown blockers.

Until now I’d considered the sole role of constraints in a brief as barriers created by resource to maintain delivery. However, reading the above it’s clear that isn’t the case, as constraints also set your creative rules – they aren’t a negative restraint, but a positive challenge.

Thinking on this a bit further, and considering the importance of flow, perhaps more consideration should be given to how detrimental constraints can be if they emerge during a project. If a task, and the creative thinking dedicated to it, has been defined by constraints and those change during a project (e.g. scope creep), the brief and the creative thinking are then susceptible to change too. It is short-term loss of time, but possibly a long-term loss of creativity. We have to be aware as constraints change and, when they do, identify if the right course of action is to accommodate the change in the current context or to step back and re-collect thoughts.

When the latter occurs, what’s the best way to:

  • Recognise the creative has been affected?
  • Avoid the instinctive negative slump?
  • Identify the new boundaries and the possible affects they have on existing creative?
  • Maintain flow throughout the above and then rise to the revised challenge with enthusiasm and fresh creative thinking?

(Still working on the answers)