Style is consistent constraint

2 minute read

Oscar Wilde once said:

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

When it comes to ideas, I agree — allow your mind to be changed. When it comes to process, I disagree. Style emerges from consistency, and having a style opens your imagination. Your mind should be flexible, but your process should be repeatable.

Style is a set of constraints that you stick to.

You can explore many types of constraints: colors, shapes, materials, textures, fonts, language, clothing, decor, beliefs, flavors, sounds, scents, rituals. Your style doesn’t have to please anyone else. Play by your own rules. Everything you do is open to stylistic interpretation.

A style can be a system, a pattern, a set of personal guidelines. Here are a few of mine:

  • I wear monochromatic clothing without logos
  • I use YYYY-MM-DD dates everywhere
  • I pluralize tag and folder names (e.g. #people not #person)
  • I use plain text files for all my writing
  • I ask myself 40 questions every year
  • I meal prep lunches every week, shave my head twice a week
  • I write concise essays, less than 500 words

Collect constraints you enjoy. Unusual constraints make things more fun. You can always change them later. This is your style, after all. It’s not a life commitment, it’s just the way you do things. For now.

Having a style collapses hundreds of future decisions into one, and gives you focus. I always pluralize tags so I never have to wonder what to name new tags.

Style gives you leverage. Every time you reuse your style you save time. A durable style is a great investment.

Style helps you know when you’re breaking your constraints. Sometimes you have to. And if you want to edit your constraints, you can. It will be easier to adopt the new constraints if you already had some clearly defined.

You don’t need a style for everything. Make a deliberate choice about what needs consistency and what doesn’t.

If you stick with your constraints long enough, your style becomes a cohesive and recognizable point of view.


Appendix

I am starting a collection of interesting personal style choices. Please send me examples and I’ll add them to the list.