Constraints, used properly, are the true drivers of innovation.
We always take the time early in the design process to establish a project’s real constraints and goals. Goals are great; they help us get clear on what we’re doing – they feel good. Constraints can be frustrating. They limit our thinking and sometimes mean exciting ideas can’t be implemented.
But when you think about it, constraints and goals are two sides of the same concept. They help us focus on what is needed to bring about real change. If we understand the factors that will affect success, then we will understand how the project is unique and we can be freed up to come up with unique solutions.
Generic solutions often result from a failure to fully specify what success would look like.
Or worse, projects with goals but a limited understanding of the constraints can also result in failure.
So how can limitation be used in our favour? Here are some examples of how constraints have helped us drive innovation.
A client wanted a solution that would raise their reputation with a group of learners who saw them as rule-bound and ‘checkbox’ minded. It had to take less than half an hour to complete a learning experience that would be entertaining for onlookers at a public event. It also had to teach a complex concept without mentioning it by name, and help learners to see the importance of seeking information actively from the people around them. We developed a solution based on a gameshow, where the learners do an activity and are ‘taught’ solely by the score they get and by having their score explained. Because they learn from the direct feedback of their scores, there was no need to include the formal name of the concept. And because the scores are partly based on how well the learners seek information from others, they learn how powerful that can be for them.
A client wanted a solution that would help learners with poor English and low literacy to understand how to apply a risk-management model in real-world situations, but without expecting them to learn the formal names of the parts of the model. The audience was known to be widely dispersed around the country and there was no way to make them do the learning activities. We designed online games that were genuinely entertaining (working with a game designer to ensure this was the case) that taught the concepts underlying the risk-management model by trial and error. By using direct feedback in the form of game scores, we could avoid complicated language and explanations, allowing learners to form their own understanding without literacy and language barriers.
A client wanted a solution that would help learners to remember where to go for help and what help might look like, without taking a lot of their time. We used meme-styled visuals to make a short e-learning module unique and easy to remember (since memes are inherently attention-grabbing and the combination of humour and simplicity makes them memorable). In testing, the learner’s reaction was extremely positive!
Have you stumbled across a tight constraint?