Since our first video, Common Craft style has been defined by a specific set of materials and processes. You could say we work within a set of constraints. While the word “constraints” sounds limiting, we’ve always found them useful and, paradoxically, liberating. According to the article linked below, there’s now a scientific explanation.
Johan Lehrer recently wrote an article called Need to Create? Get a Constraint
wherein he looks at the results of psychological experiments that show how constraints or obstacles change the way we look at the world. The basic idea is that being limited or constrained in our approach to solving a problem opens our minds to a more global perspective and helps us see connections we would not have seen otherwise.
According to the scientists...
Consistently, these studies show that encountering an obstacle in one task can elicit a more global, Gestalt-like processing style that automatically carries over to unrelated tasks, leading people to broaden their perception, open up mental categories, and improve at integrating seemingly unrelated concepts.
This seems to explain why I find constraints to be liberating. In approaching a new video, we do not have every option on the table. Common Craft Style is, in some ways, a system of constraints. For example, we only use a few items in Common Craft videos - a whiteboard, paper cut-outs, human hands, markers, etc. These are material constraints. We don’t use music - feature constraint. Our videos are never over four minutes long - a time constraint. Our characters don’t have faces - an emotional constraint.
These are all examples of obstacles. Constraining our work in this way means that we can remove a lot decision making and administration and replace it with other kinds of creativity. Our videos may work better because we don’t have to find the right music, the right animation style, the right facial expressions or models. We can stop worrying about a big chunk of the creative process through constraints and focus on what matters most to us: the explanation.
If you're working on a creative project, consider how constraints may change your perspective. It may be that limiting yourself to black and white photos or only one kind of brush may highlight an aspect of the project you would not have seen otherwise.