The Dharma of UX

“It is essential to understand the seeker, before you try to find out what it is he is seeking.” — Krishnamurti

Dharma is a word with many meanings.

It can mean path, purpose, or the nature of things. It implies the consistent application of good sense and responsible action in everyday life. At its core, dharma represents the truth of the way things are, not as they are imagined to be from one perspective. And connecting to one’s dharma can be a very powerful way of opening up to the truth, transcending preconceived notions, and breaking patterns.

It may sound lofty and even a bit pretentious. In fact, I literally heard your eyes roll. From like way over here.

Let me explain…

UX Theory + Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” — Shunryu Suzuki

To me, this quote concisely explains the underlying theory behind user experience design.

Since my early teens I’ve had a passion for studying and understanding the human condition. One of the first philosophical (and metaphysical) books I was exposed to at that time was Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”. It introduced me to a way of thinking and looking at the world from a very open and unbiased perspective.

As UX practitioners (additional eye rolling), we are working to tap into a mind that is open and ready for new things. This requires us to approach each experience and project with the same inventiveness and enthusiasm as if it were a completely new challenge. Because after all, our primary aim in UXD is to make products that people will want to use, right?

One of the best ways to reconnect with the Beginner’s Mind and watch its magic benefit your UX practice is to let go. Regularly put aside what you’ve learned or think you’ve learned about a product or process. We may fancy ourselves an expert in certain areas, which we may very well be. However, becoming too attached to the “expert” title can be extremely limiting. Being an expert can restrict your approach to problem solving, allowing only a sliver of the whole picture — using a spotlight where a floodlight is needed.

Many experts make the mistake of jumping to conclusions based on past experiences. However, often times the problem or situation calls for an unbiased, individualized examination of what is going on, and this is especially true as it relates to the UX realm.

Effortlessness + Wonder

“It takes great effort to be effortless at anything.” — Unknown

The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits, and open to all possibilities. I like to call it “child-like wonder” (minus the tantrums and bedwetting). This “child-like wonder” perspective is a way of looking at things without prejudice or bias — simply being aware of how you are experiencing the world.

When it came to the world of UX, I quickly realized that if I approached each new project or task from this empty, almost child-like mentality, it created the most success for both me and my clients.

As you embark on the practice of User Experience Design, it can be hard to enter this mind space. Deadlines, project demands, past experiences, client expectations, and what you have going on beyond your professional life are all things that can pull you from this precious, mental state.

Rest assured it is not impossible to get there. It just takes practice, which is all part of your dharma. When you live in the flow of things — right in the moment — things seem effortless. And effortless is a good thing.

Interested in learning more about getting there? Look for my next article in this series on Cultivating Your UX Practice.

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium @uxdharma and look for more discussions on UX Design, Eastern Philosophy and how their powerful combination unlocks the secrets to UXD success.

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