Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wabi-sabi and the elegance of imperfection

I have just finished reading a delightfully illuminating essay over at A List Apart. In “The Elegance of Imperfection” author David Sherwin shows us that asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the suggestion of a natural process are attributes of elegant design that may seem relevant only to a project's aesthetics. But according to him the most successful web designs reflect these considerations at every stage, from idea to finished product, infusing them with intelligence that transcends aesthetics and reflects the imperfection of the natural world.

Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. From a design point of view, "wabi" may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then "sabi" could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the acceptance of this concept on the current web is the explosive popularity of such memes as Wiki, blogs and social sites where acceptance of the state of ongoing imperfection and evolution is not only present, but is fundamental to the medium.
"Bringing heart to web experiences can be difficult, since websites and applications are fundamentally a construct of logic (via code). While you can’t create a website that functions as a pure expression of wabi-sabi, finding ways to infuse our creations with a hint of wabi-sabi adds a new dimension to our work. It forces us to consider how the natural order of our physical world should inform the virtual worlds of information that we create. One way this natural order finds expression in the web design world is through the notion of elegance."

"We’ve explored a number of threads that, when properly woven into a well-thought-out website, can infuse it with heartfelt intelligence beyond mere aesthetics. In small doses, wabi-sabi thinking can provide a counterpoint to our modernist tendency to refine things within an inch of their life, bringing a measure of grace to what would otherwise be a conglomeration of rigidly spaced pixels on a screen."

"Beware that the pursuit of website perfection is always a denial of the perfection that exists within ourselves in the physical world. Perceiving even a whisper of our own “perfect reality” is the very experience that our users and clients have hired us to capture, mindfully, through our work."

Very good stuff.

1 comment:

Panic Attack said...

This last statement is very motivating - Perceiving even a whisper of our own “perfect reality” is the very experience that our users and clients have hired us to capture, mindfully, through our work. Thank you for sharing.