Style is consistent constraint
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
- I pluralize tag and folder names (e.g.
- 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.
I am starting a collection of interesting personal style choices. Please send me examples and I’ll add them to the list.
- Scott Yu-Jan paints all his tools white.
- 2ynthetic uses a limited palette for outfits and office decor.
- Johnny Decimal is a system to organize digital data.
- Casey Neistat labels everything in his studio with paint markers.
- Ryan Hoover never changes his profile picture.
- Wes Anderson uses the typeface Futura in many of his films.
- Steve Jobs wore the same Issey Miyake black turtleneck and New Balance 991 shoes every day.
- George R.R. Martin writes his novels on the 40 year old DOS operating system
- Beethoven always counted exactly 60 coffee beans to make coffee, especially for visitors.
- Jesper Kouthoofd of Teenage Engineering only uses lowercase because uppercase communicates too much authority
- Osvaldo Cavandoli created the cartoon La Linea using an animated white line, colored backgrounds, and unintelligible vocalizations