Designing with Constraints: Project Runway x IKEA
“Designers: Create an outfit using materials in your apartment.”
Tell me more: We love thinking about how to use the power of constraints to drive creative work. Many of us, in designing projects in our classrooms, struggle to find the balance between total freedom and restrictive guidelines. So, we often look to reality television shows – like Project Runway and Top Chef – that feature challenges that are both inspiring and bound by specific rules. We’ve noticed that these challenges, which might involve making a garment from an unconventional material like candy or coffee filters, limit certain factors over and over again: Time, budget, materials, client, place (“Cook a 12-course meal on the beach”) or purpose (“Design an outfit for surviving on a desert island”).
We’ve designed our own challenge that we often lead during our Campfire workshops for the purpose of exploring the idea of creative constraints. We invite participants, in pairs, to “design a garment for the end of the world” in ~40 minutes using a limited number of materials: 1 IKEA bag, 1 pair of scissors, a small piece of tape and an obstruction that is unique to each partnership.
Classroom Applications: We’ve led the IKEA challenge with our students, but we’ve also designed projects that are inspired by these types of constraints. We typically constrain materials, time, program/purpose (what is the garment for?), place, and/or budget.
- Here’s a link to the constraints we use.
- Project Runway and Top Chef have each aired about 200 episodes. That’s nearly 400 challenges that can be harvested for inspiration! We’ve studied the Wikipedia pages for each show (Project Runway + Top Chef) and review the individual season pages (example here) to get the details about individual challenges. We also watch short clips of these shows to provide context for students who may not be familiar with the genre.
- Want to go all in on the reality show theme? Check out the lessons we’ve learned from Tim Gunn about giving feedback.
- Our favorite example of creative constraints is The Five Obstructions, a film about transforming limitations into opportunities.
- While we’re at it, here’s Ronda Rousey on the same topic.