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Tools for designing within restrictions

4 min read
Margaret Kelsey  •  Oct 7, 2016
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Constraints and rules often weigh down projects, making them difficult to navigate. Whether they’re related to hardware or data regulation, these restrictions can be some of the most challenging design problems we’re tasked with solving.

We hosted a DesignTalk with Darryl Grant, Product Designer at Hart, to learn how to embrace restrictions and still create innovative designs.

Watch Darryl’s full talk below, or read on for our short recap.

What are design restrictions?

Design restrictions range from the obvious to the easily overlooked. But understanding and managing solutions to design restrictions is key, as new problems arise every day thanks to software and devices constantly changing.   

Here are 4 of Darryl’s examples of design restrictions: 

  1. Software restrictions make consistency in your design difficult, if not impossible. For example, imagine a web app has to be transferred into a mobile app and vice-versa. Even just in the mobile space, you have both iOS and Android—each with their own menu systems and notification types.
  2. Hardware restrictions are uniquely linked to software restrictions. Darryl gave an example from his work in avionics, where hardware was strictly regulated for weight and fire safety features. To compound that, there was a long timeframe for implementing new hardware. At the end of the day, you still have to design for past hardware and legacy devices.
  3. “Design to take up as little of your user’s time as possible.”
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  4. Time is the universal design restriction.Twitter Logo Though it’s not revolutionary to point out, it’s still a critical issue in every project. Refining workflow and time management will always make you a better designer. But don’t just think of your time at work—keep in mind your user’s time. Design to take up as little as possible.
  5. It might sound counter-intuitive, but usability can be a restriction too. Especially if you’re designing for a mainstream audience, understand that they might not be tech-savvy. Design for that. They might be hesitant to change, so hold their hand. Finally, it’s important to have an awareness of accessibility issues.

Tools for dealing with restrictions

Now that you can identify restrictions, Darryl outlined the tools for handling them. Here are 3:

  1. Research: Take time to look at other restrictive design fieldsTwitter Logo—like medtech, fintech, avionics—and learn from other designers solving similar problems. Use empathy to put yourself in the problem.
  2. Communication: Some restrictions can be modified. You’d be surprised how even just pushing back against a restriction can open up possibilities. Also, keep open communication with the “bad guys”—whether that be a legal team or external regulator. Give a solution that makes the regulator’s life easier too. Communication will help you form relationships, and ultimately help you to avoid future headaches.
  3. “Pushing back against a design restriction can open up possibilities.”
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  4. Design systems: It’s a buzzword right now for a reason. Design systems allow you to move fast, collaborate for team-generated solutions, and concentrate on the problem at hand rather than the minutiae.

To learn Darryl’s 3 other tools for dealing with design restrictions, I encourage you to watch the video above! Or check out all of our other DesignTalks below.