Wabi-Sabi’s simplicity 31 Oct 2005
12 comments Latest by Klemensowski
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy that embraces a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered but don’t sterilize,” says Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. For a good summary, check out A Culture of Simplicity, a brief article by Koren.
It’s interesting to see how much this ancient Japanese philosphy relates to the world of interface design and programming. “Things wabi-sabi are unstudied and inevitable looking…unpretentious…Their craftsmanship may be impossible to discern.” Inevitable looking…that’s a great way to describe smart interfaces.
Other tenets of Wabi-Sabi that resonate: The emphasis on subtle details, even if noticed only by vigilant viewers. The importance of looking closely. The effectiveness of small doses. Having quiet authority without having to be the center of attention. Simplicity. Working with a limited palette and keeping features to a minimum. Realizing something’s “interestingness” has nothing to do with how complex it is.
“Greatness” exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details. Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular and enduring. Wabi-sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes.
Like homoeopathic medicine, the essence of wabi-sabi is apportioned in small doses. As the dose decreases, the effect becomes more potent, more profound. The closer things get to nonexistence, the more exquisite and evocative they become. Consequently, to experience wabi-sabi means you have to slow down, be patient and look very closely.
Things wabi-sabi are unpretentious, unstudied and inevitable looking. They do not blare out “I am important” or demand to be the centre of attention. They are understated and unassuming, yet not without presence or quiet authority. Things wabi-sabi easily coexist with the rest of their environment.
Simplicity is at the core of things wabi-sabi. 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.
The simplicity of wabi-sabi is best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence…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.