Theories behind Japanese Design

Aen, the guy who banged out the design of this site has an interesting write up of the theories behind the Japanese approach to design and aesthetics.

Also called Wabi – Sabi (I know I had to re-read it after thinking it was Wasabi too), the Zen principles of Aesthetics are derived from the Buddhism beliefs of Anicca or Impermanence where “everything, without exception, is constantly in flux, even planets, stars and gods”. (Wikipedia)

FUKINSEI (imbalanced)
Asymmetry, odd numbers, irregularity, unevenness, imbalance is used as a denial of perfection as perfection and symmetry does not occur in nature.

KANSO (simple)
Elimination of ornate and things of simplicity by nature expresses their truthfulness. Neat, frank and uncomplicated.

KOKOU (austere)
Basic, weathered bare essentials that are aged and unsensuous. Evokes sternness, forbiddance, maturity and weight.

SHIZEN (natural)
Raw, natural and unforced creativity without pretence. True naturalness is to negate the naive and accidental.

YUGEN (subtle profound)
Suggest and not reveal layers of meaning hidden within. Invisible to the casual eye and avoiding the obvious.

DATSUZOKU (unworldly)
Transcendence of conventional and traditional. Free from the bondage of laws and restrictions. True creativity.

SEIJAKU (calm)
Silence and tranquility, blissful solitude. Absence of disturbance and noise from one’s mind, body and surroundings.

Source: Aen Direct

It’s pretty interesting, more so if you read each principle while mentally refering it with your favorite Naoto Fukasawa design or any Japanese design for that matter. You will find that it all falls together and makes perfect sense. My favorites include Fukinsei: Asymmetry and odd numbers, Kanso: Frank and uncomplicated, and Yugen: Suggest not reveal what is hidden within.

Powerful stuff to start your design day with.

. . .

Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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[…] a temporary storage for digital media and the bottle is storage for physical items. This design, as YUGEN, one of the Zen principles explains, works subtly to communicate messages hidden within. Now, with […]

Paul Fagan

Thanks for sharing this, best explanation of Wabi Sabi nearly anywhere!


Japan and for that matter most of Asia have an integrity that is simple and calming. I think this comes about from so many people and such a hective environment that their homes must be inspirational and a place of calm.


[…] Design Theories THE PRINCIPLES FUKINSEI (imbalanced) Asymmetry, odd numbers, irregularity, unevenness, imbalance is used as a denial of […]


[…] Fuente: […]


[…] AEN via designsojourn. (Original page contains beautiful kanji writings for each principle’s […]


The quote just sucks me in. I feel like that paragraph just defeats the purpose of my Wabi Sabi series. As untranslatable and profound as Wabi Sabi seems, this is perhaps the best and most apt paragraph ever to put Wabi Sabi into understandable English.


[…] Posts Theories behind Japanese DesignThe Design Philosophies of Toshiyuki Kita and Naoto FukasawaHow To Fold A T-ShirtBe a Better […]


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