This week I had the immense pleasure to attend the San Diego 48 Hour Film Festival. This was my first time attending and it was amazing the amount of work that these teams accomplished in such a short amount of time. But as I was sitting there I couldn’t help but notice how some directors approached story telling in different ways.

Some used extravagant cars and planes and locations, others used special effects and the latest technology. And still others used simple narratives and straight forward videography. Even though I commend all of the participants on all of their hard work, it was difficult to ignore a trend between the good films and the great films and it highlights the points between limitations and constraints.

Limitation — something that controls how much of something is possible or allowed

In design, when planning a project, it is always important to take into account the limitations of the resources that you have. These limitations can be budget, time, technology, material choice and so on. These things are the limit of what can be done with the project. Often times these limitations guide the project, for example, if you are creating a printed mailer then cost is a huge factor. That is also true of time. In this case the teams were only given 48hrs to complete the project. Yet these are not the only resources that are available at the out set of a project. Many times we can call in favors from friend an co-workers that have special skills or equipment. These extra resources expand the limitations of a project.

As in the 48 film project, some teams had access to planes and exotic cars. These then became enormous features in the stories being told. We have all seen a film that was all special effects and the story suffered because of it. Some of the films at the premiere had weird unexplained twists and timelines that didn’t really make sense, or car chases that ended up having no point at all. These are signs that the director what more concerned with the limitations of his resources than the constraints around his story.

Constraint — control that limits or restricts someone’s actions or behavior

Constraints are self imposed limits that can focus a design project. There are usually several explicit constraints in every project. In the case of the 48 hr film project, teams had to use the name “Henry / Henrietta Hill” as one of the characters in the story. They also had specific props and lines that had to be used at some point in the story. Although these constraints were handed out to everyone, the teams that imposed heavier constraints on the story ended with a better result. The self imposed constraints were less noticeable. Things like limiting the location of the story to one area, limiting the number of main characters, focusing on only one character’s emotion as the story progressed. These types of constraints made the story stronger and more focused, leaving very little room for the viewer to misinterpret the concept being conveyed.

Although I do feel that some film concepts were executed better than others, I can appreciate all of the hard work, planning, shooting, and editing that when into these projects. 48 hours is an incredibly tight turn around time and I in no way intend for this post to discourage or insult their work. It was a joy to see how all of the projects turned out and it must have felt so amazing to each team to see their creation up on the big screen. Congrats to everyone that exhibited!

As always I hope that you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to email me at if you would like to chat more about UX and UI design. Thanks!

Written by Steve Erro

I am a designer that is interested in how design, humans, and business interact with one another. I currently live and work in San Diego.

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