Embracing Limits

Lately I’ve been thinking about getting a new microphone. My usb mic has served me well for many years, but I want to start making higher quality recordings using an audio interface instead. The other day I started researching microphones for recording vocals and fell down the Youtube rabbit hole (you know the one). After countless hours of sifting through videos, I stumbled upon The #1 Rule of Home Recording and found a golden nugget of advice. According to Graham, the man behind The Recording Revolution, the #1 rule for home recording is…

As a fairly indecisive person, this rule surprised me at first. The idea of limiting myself just seems like a bad idea. If I limit my options, I could be missing important things that exist outside the limits. However, Graham believes that limiting your options can set you free. It enables you to make quicker decisions and then get on with whatever you actually wanted to do in the first place.

I spent the better part of an evening looking at a bunch of different microphones (reading Amazon reviews, watching Youtube comparison videos, and skimming various music forums). I could do this for the next few weeks and possibly never be closer to an answer, literally researching myself into oblivion (or as one commenter put it, “It now takes me weeks to get nowhere”). Graham’s rule of limiting options can save me from this. Instead of researching for days, I can do some light (but smart) research, pick a mic that seems good, and get on with making music. In the time it takes to waver between options, I’d be able to actually record a song. This is a much better investment for my time. It also allows me to learn about the new mic and see what, if anything, is lacking. This way I can make a better purchase decision in the future.

Limits in Design

The idea of embracing limits also applies to the field of design. We are limited by our client’s timeline, budget, and project goals. We also have to work in a certain medium, whether it be print, web, or packaging design. Packaging designers are limited by product dimensions and printing techniques. Print designers can be limited by paper quality, number of spot colors, and binding methods. Web designers can be limited by content management systems, screen size, and connection speed. All of these limits actually make it easier for us to do our jobs since we aren’t starting from a daunting blank slate. We almost always have certain guidelines to adhere to. Instead of complaining about them, we should embrace them so we can move forward and actually get things done.

When Limits Get Sassy

Looking back, I can see that limits have played a crucial role in my own growth as a web developer.

My business partner, Roman Jaster, and I worked on the development of domesticfurniture.com. The site was designed by Green Dragon, and it was our job to code it. We decided to look into a new tool for our toolkit by trying our hand at using a CSS preprocessor. After minor deliberation, we chose Sass. According to the documentation, there are different ways you can start using Sass: with the help of various applications or simply through the command line. Roman and I did not have much command line experience and wanted to bypass that roadblock, so we bought Compass App for $10 and were able to jump in right away. We went on to use our trusty Compass App to build 3 more sites, and it worked really well.

Recently though, we felt the need to step up our game and enhance our development process. We wanted to play with the command line, so we could use Sass without an app and try Grunt and Node.js like all of our dev heroes (we’re looking at you Chris Coyier). This process was a little more difficult and required some thorough research into Terminal commands and things like Homebrew, RVM, and rbenv. Now, we’ve learned to use Sass without an app! That being said, I am sooooo happy that we initially chose to pay $10 for the app because it gave us the chance to get into the Sass game without getting bogged down by the command line at the outset. Without Compass App, we probably wouldn’t have used Sass at all due to time constraints, and we wouldn’t have had 4 sassy sites under our belts before moving on to the command line. Limiting our options let us ride our sassy bike with training wheels and gave us the confidence to take them off when we were ready for the command line.

Limits and Creativity

So let’s go back to the video for a second. One of the commenters argued that limiting oneself is bad because it limits creativity. I think the opposite is true. Working within a set of parameters forces us to think of more creative options.

For instance, Roman worked on a book called Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-consumer World where limits played an integral role in the end product. Due to budget constraints, he and his collaborator Teira Johnson were limited to two spot colors for the inside pages of the book. Instead of going for something traditional like black and one spot color, they decided to come up with a much more surprising solution using complimentary colors and basic color theory. They chose to use a light blue color along with orange and were able to mix the colors together to achieve a remarkable array of other colors: hunter green, turquoise, and light brown. This technique allowed for a lot of detail and variation in Teira’s illustrations. If the budget hadn’t limited them to two colors, they would not have utilized this clever technique. The limited budget helped them discover a creative solution.

Embracing Limits

Since when do blue and orange make green? Didn’t learn that in preschool.

Embracing Limits

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is usually a response to external stimuli, and in design, it’s a response to a specific need. Embracing limits (and sometimes even adding some yourself) can really help you home in on a solution since it forces you to focus instead of brainstorming yourself into a black hole. So go on, embrace those limits like long-lost friends!

Now, onto buying that microphone…