Design and Enlightenment

Posted on September 9, 2013
Updated October 1, 2019

Something well designed is invisible, as they say. It’s the natural state of that thing – the absence of idiocy, laziness, and confusion.

But if it’s the natural state then why is it so elusive, and why do we need to apply an effortful design process to get there? Why do we need to think so hard about it?

When we design things, we’re striving to remove the crud from around a thing, and promote it’s essence in the most useful and pleasing way. You start with confusion, a mess, a vague purpose, various angles of interest such as user and provider and refine things in a cauldron of logic and experimentation until you are left with something that works so well as to be invisible.

We have then added natural perfection to a manmade problem and returned one part of human existence to nature. A full circle has been completed – from simplistic, original nature, through the complications that arose when that natural simplicity was left behind, into a new, more complex but more awesome form of nature, one aided by the best of human effort.

Enlightenment is also a natural state. It’s living perfectly and without conscious effort.

Unenlightenment, sometimes described as ‘the human condition,’ is an abstraction from nature. It’s life, made harder by a mind ruled by fear. It’s attention stolen away by problems, coupled with desires for things that won’t really solve those problems. It’s a vicious, self-feeding cycle of negative input and negative output, in which the self becomes a vehicle for everything except itself; a reciprocal and delivery mechanism for social and intellectual, self-concealing garbage.

People tend to strive to achieve enlightenment, but the ones who arrive realise the striving was never needed. Once you’re there, things are very normal, very obvious. There is no feeling of ‘being enlightened.’ Things are just as they should be, and what’s more, they always were, but it wasn’t known – or rather too much else was known.

Before enlightenment, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. During enlightenment, mountains were no longer mountains and rivers were no longer rivers. After enlightenment, mountains were mountains again and rivers were rivers again.

Like unenlightenment, the only problems that need design solutions are man-made. Nature doesn’t require much problem solving.

Like enlightenment, a well designed thing is in it’s natural state.

Like the process of enlightenment, the process of design is an unravelling, uncovering, and promotion of an essence; a return to how things should be.

If there’s a heaven, which I suspect there is, I’m sure it’s very orderly and completely void of designers.