Zen Design Principles

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Following up on last week’s post about Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind I came across an interesting article on Co.Design about 7 Design Principles, Inspired By Zen Wisdom.

These principles build upon a concept called shibumi:

To understand the Zen principles, a good starting point is shibumi. It is an overarching concept, an ideal. It has no precise definition in Japanese, but its meaning is reserved for objects and experiences that exhibit in paradox and all at once the very best of everything and nothing: Elegant simplicity. Effortless effectiveness. Understated excellence. Beautiful imperfection.

This is related to another abstract concept called Wabi-sabi which is “centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection”. Wabi-sabi aesthetic is about beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” as expressed in the design of Zen gardens. Steve Jobs was a famous follower of this design philosophy as is Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square fame.

Without further ado the principles are these (quoted from Co.Design):

  1. Austerity: Refrain from adding what is not absolutely necessary in the first place.
  2. Simplicity: Eliminate what doesn’t matter to make more room for what does.
  3. Naturalness: Incorporate naturally occurring patterns and rhythms into your design.
  4. Subtlety: Limit information just enough to pique curiosity and leave something to the imagination.
  5. Imperfection, Asymmetry: Leave room for others to cocreate with you; provide a platform for open innovation.
  6. Break From Routine: An interruptive “break” is an important part of any breakthrough design.
  7. Stillness, Tranquility: Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those principles are very similar to Dieter Rams’ ten principles for good design sometimes even going as far as being equivalent.

These principles appear to be design universals which are fundamental regardless of which particular philosophy you adhere to.

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