Fetch water, gather firewood, boil the water, add leaves, and serve it to others. Simplicity is at the core of the tea ritual: there are few essential and clear steps in preparing the tea but the experience unique, rich of poetry and  memorable. Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese philosophy that embraces the beauty of nature where things are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. What if we regarded Interaction Design and User Experience from the perspective of Wabi-Sabi?

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” Joe Sparano

 

Keep things clean, generative and don’t sterile is the mantra for designers that want to create behaviour changing interfaces. The best design is invisible, the craftsmanship should be impossible to discern. 

The western concept of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular and enduring is incongruous with great products. Engagement and retention has nothing to do with how complex the interface is. The Wabi-Sabi perspective instead include purposeful slowness, tranquility, harmony, simplicity, incompleteness, humility, silence, naturalness, intuition.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.”

 

We develop mental model for problem framing and the words we use reflect a focus on accomplishing tasks, rather than the experience of using the tool itself. This reveals an underlying assumption about how we interact with computers; what is commonly called “user experience” refers to the experience an user has in accomplishing a given task. While accomplishing specified tasks remains one of the most important aspects of computing, it is not the only aspect of it. The web is about choices and convenience, so the result of being inconvenienced is to choose another less irritating site (because inconvenience and irritation go hand in hand in our culture). Ultimately, this means decreased revenue and customer loyalty for the hapless page that has committed the unforgivable sin of making us think.

There are abstract characterisations of Wabi-Sabi that can be used to create a patter library:

KANSO (Simplicity)
Elimination of baroque and decorative things, expressing the truthfulness of a neat, frank and uncomplicated interface. Too much of a good thing is never good, what users think they want isn’t always what will make them happiest. Emphasis the subtle details and effectiveness of small doses, importance of looking closely, work with a limited palette and keep features to a minimum.

YUGEN (Affordance)
Suggest and not reveal layers of meaning hidden within. Streamlining choice architecture to encourage some sort of journey, the user finds the flow familiar and grow his confidence. Invisible to the casual eye and avoiding the obvious, keeping controls suggest how to use them. Users are intellectually lazy, avoid hard questions where possible.

SHIZEN (Natural)
Raw, natural and unforced creativity without pretence. True naturalness is to negate the naive and accidental. Rationalise any detail because any decision you fail to take is one more that your customers will be burdened with. The Zeigarnik effect shows as uncompleted tasks (as exemple the infinite scrolling) stick in users’ mind more than completed ones.

SEIJAKU (Calm)
Silence and tranquility, blissful solitude. Absence of disturbance and noise from one’s mind, body and surroundings. Too much choice will lead to indecision and lower conversion.

This is merely one designer’s opinion but here are the takeaways for my next projects:
Gradual Engagement instead of a hasty sign up, selling benefits instead of features, showing state instead of being state agnostic, fewer form fields, direct manipulation instead of contextless menus, transitions instead of showing changes instantly.