Purpose + Principle + Process = Practice

The shared formula between design and meditation

I only recently started to meditate, and my brief encounter with the wisdom tradition has shined new light on my understanding of design. If creativity is the ability to connect the dots, the introspective practice of mindfulness has certainly pushed my boundaries. Here’s my attempt to explain some “big” design concepts using the language of meditation:

Purpose

the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists

Once a while on Fridays at noon, I lead a half-hour guided meditation session in the office. To begin, I often introduce the “launch sequence,” coined by the geekiest buddhist. The sequence goes like this, if you want to follow along.

First, take a few deep breaths, and feel the expansion and contraction of the lungs. Visualize the backbone stretch and straighten, creating a relaxed yet alert posture. Feel the feet on the ground and the hands in the laps or on the things. Soften the gaze. If the eyes are closed, soften the eyebrows.

When we are connected with our body, we then can check-in with our mind. We process so much information in our brain, so perhaps the weight of our attention is there. Pull it down towards the abdomen, if you can. Hold the weight at the center of our body.

Finally, gently ask ourselves “Why am I here?” Answers, expected or surprising, will rise.

So why are you at your desk, office, studio?

Principle

a fundamental source or basis of something

Since inquiry is one of my favorite styles of mindfulness training, I ask myself a lot of open-ended questions to widen my vista. To join the century-long quest, I sometimes attempt to answer “Who am I?”

Who are you as a designer?

I know these are true for me:

  • I care about asking the right question, and believe it will lead to the right answer.
  • I like to work in a small, cross-functional team of talent, passionate people.
  • I work for companies and teams whose missions I align myself with.
  • I am better at UX design than visual design.
  • I ship what I build.
  • I strive to design kind products.

Process & Practice

Process: a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end; Practice: repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it

In the mornings, I carve out half an hour, set an alarm and sit on a small bamboo stool facing the windows of my living room. The mind sometimes is calm, clear and quiet. But more often than not, thoughts come in and go like summer thunderstorms. Regardless of outcome, the steps to arrive at the stool is the process.

And eventually, process becomes practice, with the constant inquiry of purpose and evolvement of principle.


Right before the starting pistol of this year’s NYC Marathon, the announcer said, “One race is a practice for another.” There’s no end of our craft, and perhaps that’s the beauty of it.

Practice. Practice. Practice.