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September 14, 2010 / Ben Chun

Constraints Inspire Creativity

One of the first things to do with a programming environment that has a built-in graphics library and built-in mouse interactions is create a drawing program. I had students in my Introduction to Programming class play around with some web drawing boards and then reflect on the experience.

Here are selected student answers to the question: How do limitations on your expression allow you to be more creative?

“Limitations are forcing your mind to think of things you would not be thinking about.”

You can hear the beginnings of an idea there, something about being pushed outside of habitual responses. I also love it when kids refer to minds as distinct entities.

“The limitations allow me to be more creative because there’s only specific tools for me to use. And you have to think hard to create something you want with the tools you had.”

Again with the concept of thinking. It makes me wonder if it would be useful to have them categorize the kinds of thinking that people do.

“They help you narrow down your ideas to something that can be made within the boundaries they give you. Basically you have to improvise with what you have to work with.”

Wow. Great! I’m building engineers! This idea is espoused by people like Scott Dadich at Wired and Marissa Ann Mayer at Google. I feel like I ran across the concept in college but I can’t recall a source. Regardless, it has the ring of truth and I like sharing the concept with students.

One Comment

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  1. martin / Sep 14 2010 11:41 pm

    you should really read bryan lawson’s excellent books “what designers know” and “how designers think”. he’s written whole books about design-by-constraints.

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