Pushing Boundaries

Graphic designers are always encouraged to push the boundaries. What does this mean and how do we do this successfully? Pushing a boundary means testing a pre-conceived limitation on the design project with ideas that ignore (or modify) that limitation. Any constraint or boundary may be pushed provided that it increases the appropriateness of the work.

A graphic designer must understand the boundaries of the project. Boundaries include: client preferences, budget, time, designer skills, what is appropriate for the target audience. Some boundaries can be quantified (deadline and budget) while others are more nebulous (client preference). Most boundaries will require client buy-in to change. A change in budget or a deadline could have legal ramifications if not agreed to by the client.

Beware the lenient boundary – this is where a client has given more rope than they are honestly prepared to accept. For example: The client says “we don’t want to look like other widget companies” then starts critiques with “doesn’t look enough like a widget company”. If this happens then note how your understanding of the boundary has shifted or be prepared for many rounds of revisions.

Another boundary is the limitations of visual thought in the designer. Initial concepts are often cliché and follow the trends of the day. Visual research is great to inform a designer but inform does not equal copying or direct derivation. Following the design process helps designers break free from the boundaries of initial thoughts.

Concept ideas that are bigger than the constraints set by the boundaries. Targeting a design for the boundaries results in work that is too safe. It is much better to have to scale a big idea downwards to fit boundaries than to scale a small idea upwards. At a minimum a scaled big idea will still contain a suggestion or vision of the bigger idea. Usually the process of scaling the idea will help a designer just which of the boundaries can be pushed. “Status quo plus one plus one” thinking can be useful in imagining concepts to become larger.

A tip in pushing visual boundaries is to temporarily relax boundaries one at a time then try concepting with each relaxed boundary in mind. Concepting becomes a matter of asking “What if that boundary was further out? What ideas are now possible?” Relaxing boundaries is a brute force way for out of the box thinking because it makes room for the designer to challenge the box itself.

Related articles: Creative Horizons Theory, The Wow Factor