Constraint Buttons


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Duration: 1 day
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Project Brief

Students will create a series of 5 one inch buttons using tissue paper, magazine, glue and scissors. They run through the process the first time blind (so they don't know what's coming and just make rather than plan). I give them maybe 3-5 per step the first time through.

  1. Pick two colors of tissue paper. Create a 2 inch x 2 inch composition using the paper.
  2. Divide your composition into four pieces. You decide how (cut/tear equal/unequal pieces straight/round etc.) Reassemble the pieces into a new composition.
  3. Divide the composition into two pieces and swap one with another student.
  4. Assemble into a new composition.
  5. Choose a two inch square of tissue paper or magazine and glue to your composition.
  6. Using the hole punch crop of your composition to turn it into a button. Keep in mind the button maker can only handle something that is a few sheets of tissue paper thick. If your composition has too many layers stacked directly on top of each other, you run the risk of not being able to make it into a finished button.

Repeat this process for a total of 5 times. Each time through experiment with the variables in your control to create a strong outcome.

Learning Objectives

Laying down rules
Visual artists and designers all work within constraints, everything from deadlines, to materials they can use, the goals or mood of the work, down to which visual elements they will use and how to organize them. Some rules are self inflicted while others come from clients or a simple access to resources. As you become accustomed to working within tight constraints you will quickly find that with some options out of reach, you push yourself into new, often unexpected directions.

For this project each student will work within a series of constraints and set up a system when designing this buttons. To be successful you must discover the right balance between control and randomness, and work flexibly to push your work into unexpected and hopefully successful directions.


Students submitted the series of 5 buttons that they created during the project.


Graphic Design the New Basics - Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips

The three chapters on texture, framing and rules & randomness.


This is a great in class activity that helps them explore constraints and setting up a design system to follow. As part of the brief and debrief we discuss what constraints are imposed (material, time, client or instructor, and self imposed). We discuss the pros and cons of constraints, different ways to work within them, and any other applications we can make to design or art.

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