Edwin Antonian Team : Web Design Tags : Web Design

Wabi Sabi

Edwin Antonian Team : Web Design Tags : Web Design

The current trend in interactive/digital design has moved in a big way to minimal, flat and uncluttered aesthetic and interaction.

What is the reason for this shift? And more importantly can this ‘trend’ be linked to a philosophical influence – unconscious to many but underpinning so much of what we are seeing in the design world.

Japanese culture has exemplified the idea of Wabi Sabi (a term to assist westerners to understand this complex, inherent world view or aesthetic) for thousands of years.

Wabi-sabi focuses on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (??? sanboin?), specifically impermanence (?? mujo?), the other two being suffering (? ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (? ku?). Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.(1)

Western culture has often oversimplified Wabi Sabi to be the use of minimal natural/rustic materials to build an aesthetic. However there is much more that can be taken from this philosophy and indeed utilised when designing spaces (both physical and digital). The ideas of transience, imperfection and incompletion particularly link to interactive design. 


Digital design shifts and bends; not remaining static and this particularly links it to development and growth in the natural landscape.


As digital designers we have software that enables us pixel perfection by default. Can we think outside this?


In Wabi Sabi beauty is in spaces. Glimpses of beauty can come in fragments – (the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud (2)).

In his blog article, The Elegance of Imperfection, David Sherwin (3) more fully discusses Wabi Sabi as a way of bringing elegance and heart into interface design. The is an idea here that it is not about simply paring down what we present on screen but instead ensuring there is a connective tissue that binds the theme of Wabi Sabi throughout.

Below is an extract from David’s article which helps to give a starting point for incorporating this philosophy into interactive work.  

Interface Design / Website as book / The page model:

  • Visual exceptions create variety, forcing the eye to focus on priority content (asymmetry)
  • Enlivened by surface texture to create an illusion of dimensionality, (asperity)
  • Design tension born of a grid system on a 2D plane (simplicity) or an organic arrangement that can’t be readily made into a system (suggestion of a natural process)
  • Typography is styled in a controlled manner (modesty), and
  • The design, from its governing idea through to the finer details, conveys emotion (intimacy).

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

(2) http://www.nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm

(3) http://alistapart.com/article/the-elegance-of-imperfection