Constraints and expectations.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
A written brief identifies a problem. That is, something that will be solved with the arrival of a new design. The problem is also defined in a communication need. Potential design solutions are usually constrained by a number of things. Good design is good because it answers a problem in regard to its constraints. This section looks at explaining how this works.
The term constraint refers to a limit placed on the design of a visual communication. Whilst having limits might seem negative for creativity, clearly articulated targets provide clarity and direction for a designer and ensure they meet client needs.
Constraints usually apply to the functional or structural aspects of a design. This is easy to understand for industrial design. For example, a brief for a chair might include constraints like be able to fit in a certain size space, be foldable, have four legs or weigh less than 3kg. Each of these refer to structural or functional characteristics of the design. However, identifying constraints for communication design is a bit subtler. For example, constraints for a poster, may include the content required, the language captions are in, the imagery, type and colours mandated in a style guide, the size, format or paper stock. Constraints refers to characteristics that can be measured.
The term expectations is similar, and is often used with constraints – a brief may contain a number of constraints and expectations for a designer. Expectations regarding the function of a design may include targets a design should to meet. For example; a high-chair is expected to be safe and painted with non-toxic paints. A poster for a music event is expected to be read from a distance. Directions for a flat-packed piece of furniture should be easy to understand regardless of a purchaser’s language. Likewise, a website is expected to be easy to navigate for first time users and a concert hall is expected to have adequate disabled access.
Expectations also refers to the desires of a client regarding the aesthetic qualities or style of a design. Expectations refer to how a design should look. There are adjectives that describe aesthetic qualities and considerations. Words such as vibrant, colourful, futuristic, minimal, retro, childish, sophisticated, homely, hand-made, for example all describe the aesthetic qualities or style of a design. A client may want a design to reflect certain aesthetic characteristics. These kinds of expectations refer to style and as such can’t be measured but evaluated with experience.
Constraints in action
AIR MINISTRY SPECIFICATIONS
A nice way to understand how constraints and expectations can be used to drive innovative design is to look at the list of requirements known as specifications that are drawn up by a national air ministry when their airforce needs a new kind of plane. Interestingly, Air Force executives have nothing in-mind that could describe what the plane they want looks like. The solution to the design specifications problem is entirely up to designers working within aircraft manufacturing companies. Air ministries release specifications that describe what a plane must to be able to do then different aircraft builders compete against each other to design and build a prototype. Often different companies construct vastly different looking planes yet they all meet the Air Ministry specifications.
One example of a British Air Ministry Specification was drawn up in 1946 and is known as Specification B. 14/46, The ‘V- Bomber Specification’. This specification called for a medium-range jet bomber capable of;
- carrying a 10,000-pound (4,535 Kg) bomb
- for 3, 350 miles (5,391 Km)
- to take-off and land from any base in the world
- have a maximum take-off weight of 100,000 pounds (45, 359 Kg)
- cruising at a height of 50,000 feet (15, 240 M) after two hours
- cruise at 500 knots (926 Km/h) for at least an hour and a half
It was hoped that the successful aircraft would not only meet these specifications but exceed them. Three aircraft were designed and built. All three were ordered and entered service.
What came of Specification B. 14/46?
Examples of constraints for visual communications
- Retain the appearance of a traditional bicycle
- Have a removable battery for recharging in owners’ homes
- Have large tyres for rough urban street crossings
- Have mudguards and lights
- Have small luggage carrying racks
- Be easy to clean and maintain
- Be made from durable weatherproof materials and finished
- Be adjustable for seat height by the owner
- Use solid dark colours
- Be a unisex design
That the designs are made with geometric shapes and thick lines.
The AIGA symbols are all made from geometric shapes and thick lines. The use of geometric, stylised shapes rids the objects of any individuality and makes them generic. They are then instantly recognisable and can apply to any instance of the objects they depict. In addition, the stark black shapes and thick lines contrast well with a background. This makes them easy to see from afar and separates them from other distractions.
That the AIGA symbols are made with flat tone colour with hard edges.
Making the designs from flat tones with crisp edges allows them to be printed using many techniques including screen printing and laser cut vinyl sheet for signs. It also allows the designs to remain as vector shapes when transmitted as digital files, thus preventing any loss of clarity when they are enlarged.