Boundaries and creativity

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Andrew Knighton writes

People often talk about creativity as a chaotic thing, all about freedom. But I’m not convinced. For me, limitations and boundaries are the real source of inspiration.

A few years ago, Mrs K and I picked up a book of creative brain-stretching exercises from a charity shop. One of them was to take photographs of ten boundaries. We were on holiday in York at the time, and it seemed like it might be fun, so we looked for boundaries as we wandered around the town. We found fences and doorways, road-signs and boot-scrapers, and dozens of other objects marking the limits of things, not least the city walls of York itself. And I noticed something as we did this. All of those boundaries restricted people, but in doing so they also permitted and enabled. Double yellow lines might stop people parking where they want to, but they also help traffic…

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One response »

  1. I’m a product designer (for those reading who might not already know). I LOVE limitations. When I first left uni I thought I wanted to work somewhere where I was free to come up with crazy innovative ideas, freedom for creativity with very few boundaries. I have since spent some time both working for Dyson’s New Product Ideas department, where we had pretty much free reign to come up with anything we liked, and also working right at the other end of product design where I am designing fixes for products already in production (loooads of limitations there). I found that actually I prefer working within limitations. There are so many infinite possibilities if you have no boundaries that your mind can wonder anywhere. But then it often feels then that your creativity isn’t being challenged. And it isn’t as satisfying without a challenge, without something to lateral think your way around. I find you can come up with much more interesting ideas when there are limitations in place – it forces me to work at it, to actually exercise my creativity properly.

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