Bruce Lee once famously described the philosophy behind his own mixed martial arts discipline, Jeet Kune Do, to a bewildered Canadian interviewer as follows: “you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. You pour water in a glass, it becomes the glass. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Esoterical notions aside, Bruce Lee was pointing out the need to adapt to circumstances within reason of the context, both mentally and physically. Like the wind, a thought can also create a vortex if allowed. Aesthetics tend to follow a similar principle.
The need to impose and assert often comes from a deep-seated inflexibility of the thought process: we are used to piece together neat little chunks of information and we learn patterns, more often than not. We tend to have the same reactions when confronted with a situation. Precious little attention is paid to how these patterns are integrated and work together as a whole.
While watching an Aikido tournament, I was impressed at the imposing physical prowess of the participants, but whilst the main objective of kicking ass was kept near and dear to their hearts, there was a latent continuity and fluidity to their movements, regardless of how much force they employed.
Aikido in particular is a martial art that emphasizes diverting and transformation in face of the context and the appropriate response: it is design at its purest physical form.
While designing for the Web, we often start from pre-conceived notions of how a given architecture should be: a navigation bar here, some basic button layout there. In employing such elementarity, we often forget about closure as a design principle. The tendency to perceive a set of individual elements as a single, recognizable pattern, is part of the designer’s preoccupation: it instigates both entry and participation, but also provides the user with a sense of the whole. Elements should not be hanging in neat little own walls. You are building a house. Pay attention to the full decoration. A service is more than the sum of many small parts. Design details are important — up to a point. If you are fighting for the 0.5% uptake on conversion, there is likely something wrong with your business model. Go to the core of the customer’s concerns, listen to its needs — be responsive and fluid both strategically and tactically.
Like in the most demanding physical martial arts, fluidity and continuity should be at the core of the designer’s heart if a design is to prove successful. Be disruptive enough to steer the customer’s interactions with your service and design, but always be adaptive enough to sustain and support it. Segment, finetune, test. Run constant user studies. Do not adopt one-fit-all bludgeon attitude.
In a nutshell —be more Bruce Lee in your designs.