Derived from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, Zen found its way to Japan via China in the form of motionless meditation. The word Zen paints a picture of peace, serenity, waterfall and rounded stones. It has become a part of our every day lexicon, yet we hardly practice what it exhorts. Be here and now. Turn off the filters. Dissolve all preconceptions. Perceive directly. "Dissolve into the eternal now, and realize that the Universe itself peers out through your eyes, hears through your ears, and breaths each breath." Experiencing each moment as it is. According to Chinese Ch’an and Zen, understanding comes only by ignoring the intellect and heeding the instincts, the intuition. True perception comes from vast emptiness.
Whatever the philosophical construct of Zen may be, we all seem to have a visual concept of what Zen is. We talk about Zen like design, we muse on the elegance in the absence of abundance and of course the Zen Master of Subtraction: Steve Jobs is still very alive in our mass psyche. One of Jobs’ great strengths was knowing how to focus. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he said. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
In his book, The Laws of Subtraction (that will be available on October), Matthew May states 6 simple rules for winning in the age of excess, very much in keeping with the 5 principles of Zen Design Simplicity:
- What isn’t there can often trump what is.
- The simplest rules create the most effective experience.
- Limiting information engages the imagination.
- Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints.
- "Break" is an important part of any breakthrough.
- Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing.
The relevance of this message in our busy business of trade show clutter is huge. Noteworthy, are the first 3 points. Usually, as trade show exhibitors we tend to blast away all the features that our products are capable of. But as Matthews puts it; What isn’t there can often trump what is. He cites the example of Scion. Designers essentially used this strategy in creating the fast-selling and highly profitable xB model, a small and boxy vehicle made intentionally spare by leaving out hundreds of standard features in order to appeal to the Gen Y buyers who wanted to make a personal statement by customizing their cars with trendy options. It wasn’t about the car. It was about what was left out of it.
The discipline to discard that does not fit is the bedrock of Zen design. All aspects of your brand can only stand tall in an intelligently designed space that is anchored in elegant suggestive simplicity. It is the suggestive simplicity that engages human imagination, thus injecting it with the merit momentous memorability.