Japan, Musings

Wabi-Sabi

Design Context

I just finished this book and would like to share an excerpt. I picked it up due to a long-standing interest in anything Japanese. As soon as I started reading however, I was giddy with the unexpected analogies that can be made between the type of work I do (Interaction Design for apps or websites) and this medieval Japanese philosophy. I don’t want to shape your personal impression too much, but since I’m trying to share some of my own ideas and impressions through this website, it’s worth mentioning that I easily found direct correlations with the excerpt below and the following:

  • Lean — Just start designing. Imperfection and incompletion are unavoidable
  • Combat feature-creep/feature-bloating in your product
  • Validated minimalism — i.e. interview users to see if a simple interface is still enough to easily accomplish tasks, and doesn’t add confusion
  • Design for emotion

  • Minimum Viable Product
  • “No” to the No UI trend – a post about that

So, those are some of the ideas that are sparked by this philosophy. I’d love to hear yours.

Excerpt

from Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers – GoodreadsAmazon


Simple. Simplicity is at the core of things wabi-sabi. Nothingness, of course, is the ultimate simplicity. But before and after nothingness, simplicity is not so simple. To paraphrase Rikyu, the essence of wabi-sabi, as expressed in tea, is simplicity itself: fetch water, gather firewood, boil the water, prepare tea, and serve it to others. Further details, Rikyu suggests, are left to one’s own invention.

But how do you exercise the restraint that simplicity requires without crossing over into ostentatious austerity? How do you pay attention to all the necessary details without becoming excessively fussy? How do you achieve simplicity without inviting boredom?

The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably best described as the sate of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize. (Things wabi-sabi are emotionally warm, never cold.) Usually this implies a limited palette of materials. It also means keeping conspicuous features to a minimum. But it doesn’t mean removing the invisible connective tissue that somehow binds the elements into a meaningful whole. It also doesn’t mean in any way diminishing something’s “interestingness,” the quality that compels us to look at that something over, and over, and over again.

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