Sunday, June 21, 2009

Freedom and Constraint

As a Christian, sometimes I find it difficult to express certain truths. I feel their value intuitively, I understand them as best I can, I try to apply them - but I fail at trying to explain them to my friends. One such topic is the idea of freedom - specifically freedom in Christ. It is so difficult to get people to understand how doing whatever I want whenever I want is actually not freedom, but instead how voluntarily becoming a slave to Jesus and putting others' needs first and saying "no" to a lot of things that seem like a lot of fun is actually true freedom. People are always like, "Huh?!?!" I know that it's about being free to NOT follow my desires, free from slavery to my emotions and appetites. But it's still hard to explain sometimes. And I also know that, as with a lot of this Jesus stuff, explaining it isn't what changes hearts anyway - people have to see it lived out and experience it on their own. But still - I get frustrated.

Well, a little article in a recent edition of WIRED magazine (Excellent magazine, by the way!) really helped me to put words to this whole concept. I love this little article because it is all about design and the author appears to have no intention to make religious implications, yet it explains a spiritual truth so very well. Check it out:

'You’re Looking at a Box… (by Scott Dadich, Creative Director, WIRED, March 2009)
… A 16-by10.875-inch rectangle containing precisely 174 square inches of possibility, made from two sheets of paper glued and bound together. Legendary magazine art director and Pentagram partner D.J. Stout calls the science of filling this box with artful compositions of type and images “variations on a rectangle.” That is, in any given issue of a magazine – this one, for example – subjects and stories will change, but as a designer, you’re still dealing with the same ol’ blank white box.
At WIRED, our design team sees this constraint as our daily bread. On every editorial page, we use words and pictures to overcome the particular restrictions of paper and ink: We can’t animate the infographics (yet). We can’t embed video or voice-over (yet). We can’t add sound effects or music (yet). But for all that we can’t do in this static medim, we find enlightenment and wonder in its possibilities. This is a belief most designers share. In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand “Just do whatever you want.” That’s because designers understand the power of limits. Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation.
Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development – removing low-hanging branches – and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It won’t waste precious resources on growth that doesn’t serve its ultimate purpose. The same principle applies to design. Given fewer resources, you have to make better decisions.
For proof, just consider these cultural and technological high points of the last century. Piet Mondrian helped usher in modernism by limiting himself to 90-degree angles and primary colors. Miles Davis conceived Kind of Blue without the use of a single chord. More recently, the very iPhone on which you listen to Davis’ landmark album is a one-buttoned example of restraint in pursuit of an ideal, while the sublimely simple Google homepage is forever limited to 28 words.
The idea of operating within constraints – of making more with less – is especially relevant these days. From Wall Street to Detroit to Washington, the lack of limits has proven to be a false freedom. With all the economic gloom, you might not be blamed for feeling that the boundless American frontier seems a little less expansive. But design teaches us that this is our hour of opportunity. In the following pages, we explore a few of our favorite constraints. In each case, the imposition of limits doesn’t stifle creativity – it enables it.’


"...the power of limits."

"Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation."

Prune a tree and "It won't waste precious resources on growth that doesn't serve its ultimate purpose." - Am I using all of my resources toward meeting my ultimate purpose? Am I open to God's pruning?

"...restraint in the pursuit of an ideal" - Sounds to me a little like a biblical value called self-control...

"From Wall Street to Detroit to Washington, the lack of limits has proven to be a false freedom." - Amen, and it's the same in our personal lives, too, no?

"...the imposition of limits doesn't stifle creativity - it enables it." - The imposition of limits for our own good... Sounds kind of like the work of a loving Father, doesn't it?

"In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand 'Just do whatever you want.'" Could this also be true not just of designers, but also of all people, spiritually speaking? I take a look at my own life and the lives of the people around me, and "Just do whatever you want" has usually not been a very fruitful approach to life.


Maybe limits are sometimes a good thing...

Maybe the great Designer knows what He's doing when He places constraints on us for our own good...

Maybe each time that I die to myself and submit my will to God's will, these are actually my greatest moments of opportunity, creativity, and freedom...

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