Top 7 Design Constraints to Learn How to Work Around

The design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In fact, a question we’ve pondered is: in a perfect world with no constraints, would anything actually get done? Designers have to work within the boundaries of countless obstacles and still produce groundbreaking work. Some of these constraints are imposed by business, and others are internal, enacted by the designer themselves to ensure the feature or asset performs better than the previous version.

Let’s take a step back: what would happen if we were faced with a freeway with no lanes? We are quite sure there would be an uptick in car accidents immediately. And this has more to do with design constraints than you might think. Without any lanes in the design system, designers wouldn’t know how to properly get to their destination: an on-brand finished product that meets user needs, while still staying within budget.

Here at, we don’t think that constraints and creativity have to be polar opposites. In fact, they can not only coexist but also enhance design when approached in the right way. Today we will go over some of the most common, yet difficult design constraints that all creatives need to learn how to navigate.

1. Budget

When you’re working with a small budget, it’s time to think creatively!

2. Brand and Style Guidelines

But what if you are a freelancer who comes in for one project and a brand and style guide is in place that doesn’t exactly fit with your own design philosophies? That certainly leaves you between a rock and a hard place, but it is still possible to get the project done well. Find out how much wiggle room you have and make recommendations that iterate on design best practices.

3. Timelines

On the other hand, some projects are open-ended and come with a pesky deadline of “whenever.” A more flexible timeline will require designers to break the project up into bite-sized pieces to avoid rushing when the project all of a sudden becomes a main priority.

Prefer to write out deadlines by hand on a calendar? Whatever works best!

Overall, maintaining balance is key. There are only so many hours in a day and spending one hundred hours per week working on a single project might not be the best use of time. It can lead to burnout ( which we help combat here) and hamper creativity. Whether you have a tight or flexible timeline, create your own time constraints that help you do your best work, and maintain a creative flow.

4. User Feedback

With that said, users need to be the core of any and all design. Unless a design is purely for enjoyment and doesn’t serve a functional purpose, of course. Designers creating apps, websites, assets, and more will need to determine how users already do or will interact with the final product. There is a delicate balance required to make this a reality. Designers must separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. Not all user feedback should be taken to heart, which is why user researchers should always supplement general walkthroughs of the product with pointed questions that aim to get to the bottom of what the user really wants out of the experience.

5. Device Specifics

For smartphone designs, you’ll need to consider how to make your product or feature as easy as possible for someone as they tap and swipe through on the train on their way to work. When it comes to a software product design, you might want to think about simplifying navigation to help your users accomplish their personal or professional projects faster. Beyond these two types of screens, the overall need within this design constraint is to understand why users choose specific hardware or devices and tailor the experience to what they need in those instances.

6. Client or Internal Feedback

Get ready for a lot of feedback.

Once a draft of a project is done, it’s time to brace yourself for revisions. This feedback will introduce additional design constraints and further hone the project for better or for worse. It’s best to approach this potentially critical feedback with an open mind and a focus on the larger goals of the project.

7. Project Specific Design Constraints

For example, as space travel becomes cheaper and safer (thanks, Space X!), it’s entirely possible that designers will soon have to create new interfaces that are effective and useful in zero gravity situations. While this might be many, many years off, taking a moment to ponder how you might approach a wearable app designed for space travel might provide an interesting exercise around how you can work within novel design constraints.

Final Thoughts

What strategies do you use to get around design constraints? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio. lets anyone build mobile app prototypes that feel real. No coding or design skills required. Bring your ideas to life quickly! Sign up for a free 15-day trial of today and get started on your next mobile app design.

Originally published at on March 20, 2019.

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