As a student in the field of designwork, I take influence from a lot of different things. One such source is culture. I really enjoy Asian cultures in particular, so I will share some of my thoughts in regards to design in the "Asian" sense.
Zen is, by Wikipedia's definition, a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, translated from the Chinese word Chán. This word is in turn derived from the Sanskrit dhyāna, which means "meditation." In short it is a school of thought centered around simplicity and self-enlightenment. It is practiced around the world in countries such as India, Korea, China, and Japan.
I recently stumbled upon some books illustrating how principles of Zen technique can enhance a presentation or design. The book that I drew this information is called Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, I would suggest if you are interested to look into it.
But moving on, Garr says that there are about 7 principles of Zen that we can use to further heighten our design. I will comment on these principles under the provided description that Garr gives in his book.
Kanso (簡素) Simplicity or elimination of clutter. Things are expressed in a plain, simple, natural manner. Reminds us to think not in terms of decoration but in terms of clarity, a kind of clarity that may be achieved through omission or exclusion of the non-essential.
Simplicity rules all in Zen thought, and overall these principles of Zen will come back to the idea of Kanso. My website designs and drawings are mostly void of clutter or have very little background in order to draw the client's eyes to the main point or item of focus.
Fukinsei (不均整) Asymmetry or irregularity. The idea of controlling balance in a composition via irregularity and asymmetry is a central tenet of the Zen aesthetic. The enso ("Zen circle") in brush painting, for example, is often drawn as an incomplete circle, symbolizing the imperfection that is part of existence. In graphic design too asymmetrical balance is a dynamic, beautiful thing. Try looking for (or creating) beauty in balanced asymmetry. Nature itself is full of beauty and harmonious relationships that are asymmetrical yet balanced. This is a dynamic beauty that attracts and engages.
This Zen principle is also used frequently in brush paintings. When I was learning calligraphy, the very first thing that they required me to learn was how to properly do enso, the Zen circle. It symbolizes imperfectness that is beautiful, which in turn is also a part of life. Life and nature will be full of flaws, it will however always come full circle into a magnificent design.
Shibui/Shibumi (渋味) Beautiful by being understated, or by being precisely what it was meant to be and not elaborated upon. Direct and simple way, without being flashy. Elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. The term is sometimes used today to describe something cool but beautifully minimalist, including technology and some consumer products. (Shibui literally means bitter tasting).
Again this goes back to the idea of simplicity and imperfection, today we can see a lot of artwork that is influenced by this principle, especially modern artwork. The Grids idea can also tie into this in a way as well. Using simple straight lines organized into a grid you can eventually create a meaningful message that is clean and organized.
Shizen (自然) Naturalness. Absence of pretense or artificiality, full creative intent unforced. Ironically, the spontaneous nature of the Japanese garden that the viewer perceives is not accidental. This is a reminder that design is not an accident, even when we are trying to create a natural-feeling environment. It is not a raw nature as such but one with more purpose and intention.
Zen gardens will automatically come into mind, as they utilize all 7 principles with a focus on Shizen. When you are creating a Zen garden, you don't go about it in a stiff or planned manner. Rather the idea is to let the natural Chi or Ki (natural energies) inside you guide your design. With the usage of enzo and kanso you create the waves in the sand that become a natural part of you.
Yugen (幽玄) Profundity or suggestion rather than revelation. A Japanese garden, for example, can be said to be a collection of subtleties and symbolic elements. Photographers and designers can surely think of many ways to visually imply more by not showing the whole, that is, showing more by showing less.
If you think of black and white colored photos, you can think of the Yugen idea. They show and focus on the subject manner without the color, without clutter, and without "noise". Eventually the photo will become a collection of "subtleties and symbolic elements". Photographers in particular often think about this principle, as they need to capture the "essence" of the photo without taking too much of it.
Datsuzoku (脱俗) Freedom from habit or formula. Escape from daily routine or the ordinary. Unworldly. Transcending the conventional. This principles describes the feeling of surprise and a bit of amazement when one realizes they can have freedom from the conventional. Professor Tierney says that the Japanese garden itself, "...made with the raw materials of nature and its success in revealing the essence of natural things to us is an ultimate surprise. Many surprises await at almost every turn in a Japanese Garden."
Pretty much it is saying be yourself, let your creative energies flow and become a part of the work. The interesting thing about today's society is that most of the time we are restricted in what we are allowed to do. With the Zen mindset, it allows you to feel the surprise and amazement of having the freedom and control of directing your own design.
Seijaku (静寂)Tranquility or an energized calm (quite), stillness, solitude. This is related to the feeling you may have when in a Japanese garden. The opposite feeling to one expressed by seijaku would be noise and disturbance. How might we bring a feeling of "active calm" and stillness to ephemeral designs outside the Zen arts?
Energy plays a key role, as the naturalness, simplicity, and flaws will come together to create a piece of meaning that has "active calm" It is also in reference to the artistic "coma" (for lack of better wording), when you are in this artistic state of pouring your whole being, you are usually so focused on putting so much energy into the work that you often find yourself in stillness or solitude. However this just might be myself.
I hope that you enjoyed this wall of text that describes some of the design elements that I draw inspiration from. And I hope you learned something about Asian culture at the very least. I plan to explore more in depth into more aesthetic design principles that are present throughout the world.
Edit: Next week I'll tie in grids and.....bento boxes.