UX and the Tao 道

What does User Experience have to do with Taoism?

About the difficulty in explaining and defining what is UX

If you work with UX, chances are you’ve already had trouble explaining to someone what UX really is.

What is UX? A discipline? A philosophy? A method? A way of thinking? A way of looking? An art? A technique? Approach?

UX is that thing that you know what it is, but you can't explain and put into words, as if it were something beyond words. We have to agree that it is not easy to answer the question “What is UX?”, Either for ourselves or for a stranger we have just met at a party, and that is a fact.

If you search around, obviously there are numerous definitions of the term, made by professionals and renowned designers in several areas, to name a few:

“User Experience encompasses all aspects of end-user interaction with the company, its services and its product” Don Norman
“User experience is about how it works from the outside where a person comes into contact with it and has to work with it. (…) However, every product that is used by someone has a user experience: newspaper, ketchup bottles, recliner, cardigan sweaters.” Jesse James Garret
“Art and the science of generating positive emotions among people who interact with products or services” Tomer Sharon
“The process of improving user satisfaction, improving usability, accessibility and enjoyment provided in the interaction between the user and the product.” Wikipedia

Don't know about you, but for me all these definitions, no matter how best they try to be simple and succinct, that try to synthesize the meaning of the “thing” as a whole, still remain very comprehensive, abstract and somewhat subjective, in addition they address many terms that refer to several other things and areas of knowledge — this inevitably creates this complexity and difficulty in explaining and defining what UX is.

On the difficulty in explaining and defining what is the 道 Tao

Luke and Darth Vader — Yin-Yang

A few years ago I get very interested in reading and studying Philosophy, especially those coming from the East. In these readings I was fortunate to come across the classic Tao Te Ching , written by Lao Tzu between 350 and 250 BC

Even if you do not have any previous contact with this theme, if you live on planet Earth you have certainly come across this symbol, right? For, this symbol is directly related to Taoism and its foundations .

As a complement to this article I recommend this video of the TED-Ed channel where Yin-Yang symbology is approached in a clear and creative way:

Brief history of Lao Tzu 老子 and Tao Te Ching 道德 經

Legend has it that thousands of years ago in ancient China, Lao-Tzu decided to cross the border of the territory to exile in the mountains and live their last years of life far from the city.

The frontier soldier, seeing that the old man was a great teacher, forced him to register / share his knowledge and wisdom of Life, this would be the currency of exchange for crossing the border.

The result of this was the book Tao Te Ching , one of the most known and important works of Chinese and world literature .

In fact, to this day there is no certainty whether Lao Tzu really existed or not — in any case, this is a very interesting book besides being considered the father of Taoist ideas all over the world.

Many critics of Buddhism question whether the Buddha figure really existed, and as he said earlier, so does Lao Tzu.

Regardless, I believe that the most important thing is the moral of the story, the teaching itself, the message, not the fact that the person really existed or not. Moreover, even if the person did not exist, it was created and departed from the human mind, in the real world, therefore, it exists and the most important is the essence of the message.

In theory, the book Tao te Ching sets out to explain what the Tao 道 is, but after all, WTF is Tao?

Dear reader, that’s where the problem starts …

Below are two definitions of the Tao 道 of the Taoist Society of Brazil :

“Tao 道, which literally translated means Way, expresses the philosophical concept of the Absolute. This concept brings the idea of ​​origin, principle and essence of all things. The Absolute is beyond time, space, and languages. Therefore, it can not be expressed, because all expressions depend on a language and a reference of time and space. Just as it is not possible to use a ruler to measure something beyond measures, one can not use language to describe something beyond language. “
“Tao 道 — is the totality, including the visible and the invisible, is the being and the not-being together. Tao in Chinese presents three meanings at the same time: it is “path”, it is “walker” and the action of walking; by analogical consequence, the Tao is, at the same time, the Creator, the Created and the creation. The Tao, as Creator, is the Void and the Form, and the transformation that unites the two.The Three are One. The Tao is not limited in name, form, sense, or anything else;all things, however, are part of the Tao and the forms of the Tao express themselves. “

Countless streams of religious and philosophical thought in the course of time have attributed thousands of different interpretations to the meaning of Tao Te Ching. However, the primary question of the book is located in its first paragraph:

“The Tao that can be said is not the True Tao.”

UX as a tool: polarities, ethics and morals

When searching the etymology of the word Tool in wikipedia , we have the following result:

The term tool derives from the Latin tool, plural of toolum. It is a utensil, device, or physical or intellectual mechanism used by workers from the most diverse areas to perform some task.
Some types of utensils can serve as weapons, such as hammer and knife, and some weapons, such as explosives, used as tools.
In the animal kingdom, task-facilitating devices are also used: the sea otter opens mollusks using a variety of objects, the monkeys even manufacture rudimentary tools.
Depending on the above, a tool can be defined as:
a device that provides a mechanical or mental advantage to facilitate performing various tasks.

When I try to explain or define what UX is — whether to myself or to someone else — the best answer I could find until today is that UX is a tool . In my point of view, the essence of a tool itself is neutral . You can use the internet to pay a bill, buy a ticket, or to give a blow, offend someone or hack and stole data or money.

The only difference here is the subject’s use of the tool.

That is, you can use a tool for “Good” or “Evil”: Polarities ☯️

This brings us to a much discussed issue on the market today, a philosophical, ethical and moral issue: UX of good & UX of evil . To stay focused, I will address this issue in another article in the future.

UX of good & UX of evil — an ethical and moral issue
In my view, UX, like everything in existence, is dual and polar: the user experience is Internal & External at the same time — it is objective and subjective. You can use Persuasive Design techniques to induce your users to buy the cheapest ticket or the most expensive ticket — polarities.

UX and the Tao

After all this story, philosophizing about the question “What is UX?” and about the Tao, I came to the following conclusion, but I would like to begin the answer with another question:

What is Tao 道?
The Tao can not be expressed in a word or concept, it is indefinable, because it does not fit into a word, beyond which, the word is not the “thing”.
Tao is like air: it permeates all things, but it can not be grasped or seen there.
Tao is the intuitive and practical knowledge of everyday life, it is not something concrete or palpable.
Tao can be known only through experience, not through external knowledge.

Reread the above sentence ☝️, but change the word “Tao” to “UX” and you’ll get a glimpse — in my opinion — of what UX might be

UX is in everything, but it can not be seen, much less defined in a word, term or concept.
UX is what happens in the space between us and the “real” world.

UX is like 道 Tao.

I would like to emphasize that the idea here is not to connect UX to a religion, but to something that can not be expressed in words, something that is beyond, something that is everywhere and the same time nowhere, something that is only learned through experience , not through knowledge .

It is difficult to put thoughts and feelings into words. Lacanian psychoanalysis gives much importance to this question, of how the subject has difficulty putting into words (language) their feelings, their emotions, their pains, their narrative, the history of their life.

“You may know what he said, but never what the other one listened to .” 
Jacques Lacan

Taoism itself, like Buddhism, is not a religion. Some people or organizations have made it a religion, but it itself is a “thing”, a framework, just as UX is a set of frameworks that connect and work together.

In addition there is the issue of Polarity, the main concept of Taoism and how it relates to the work of UX designer, who can project for good or evil.

I would like to cite the phrase of the existentialist author Albert Camus : “You can not create experience, you have to go through it”

(If you know a little more about Lao Tzu and Taoism I recommend the animation below the School of Life )