Wabi-sabi in software design

When I first heard about wabi-sabi, I thought the concept sounded interesting, particularly in the context of good software design. The other day I picked up a thin volume titled “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers”. From its back cover:

“Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”

The book makes a number of interesting points that I believe apply quite well to software design but this excerpt about the material simplicity of all things wabi-sabi is the one to frame and put on the wall:

“The simplicity of wabi-sabi is best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize. (Things wabi-sabi are emotionally warm, never cold.) 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.”

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