ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Eight Insights in Design from the World of Bonsai

Posted by Plish on August 24, 2010

This past weekend I was at the Midwest Bonsai Expo at Chicago’s Botanical Garden.  While there, I had the pleasure to watch and listen to a demonstration workshop by bonsai expert Michael Hagedorn.

While it was fascinating watching him transform a tree through his thoughtful touch, it was even more interesting to listen to his insights and reflections on bonsai, bonsai design, and hence design in general.

 Here are some thoughts of his from the workshop:

1. A good tree (design) should have three aspects: A – Elegance; B- Dignity; C – Presence.   However, it is not uncommon for these three to be doled out in different proportions.

I love this observation. It is no doubt influenced by his training in Japan.  How do designs (or even brands!) that you know of stack up?

2. “I should be invisible as an artist”  The tree is designed so that it stands on its own; that even though it’s been pruned and manipulated by the artist, it doesn’t look it.  It retains itself, or, “takes possession of itself,” once the designing part is over.  Think of it: after a product is released into the market place it stands on its own and grows into its own.

3. “Great people and great trees are the same.”  This is with regards to how the tree(design) ages, how it shows the scars of life and still comes through it all with Elegance, Dignity and Presence (see #1).

Some additional observations of mine:

4.  A good bonsai (design) is a result of the artist(designer) embracing the constraints.  A tree has branches, roots, soil, certain nutritional needs.  If any one constraint is ignored the result is a sickly tree (design) or worse.

5. It’s not about adding to the tree as much as it is taking away from the design and redirecting the tree to achieve Elegance, Dignity and Presence.  However…

6.  There are  wildcards like weather, those things outside of our control, that can scuttle all our bests efforts.  So all we can do is prepare the tree(design) for whatever the future may hold and hope for the best.

7. While bonsai are shown and meant to be seen from their ‘ front’,  really good bonsai (design) it seems, have something to look at from any direction.

8. Bonsai is a type for metadesign.  The self-building, synergistic, holistic, fractalesque nature of working with bonsai is beyond regular design.  Bonsai is an ongoing relationship and dialogue between the designer and the designed.

So what do you think?  Do these eight insights resonate with your own experience?  Can you think of examples that highlight or contradict them?

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4 Responses to “Eight Insights in Design from the World of Bonsai”

  1. zh said

    Very nice observations, I can certainly relate to the philosophy behind it. Although, given the current institution of branding/brand strategy – where recognition is based on constant reminding, subsidising and a not-so-subtle appeal to the id/ego –I feel these thoughts are desirable ideals few would actively execute…

    Thanks for the references to metadesign, very thought-provoking…what does entredonneurial mean? Based on the french “entre” “donner”? Are you advocating “a co-design practice that is shares its knowledge and expertise’?

  2. Plish said

    Thanks for the thoughts! Unfortunately, I agree with you regarding the philosophy of current branding and the principle that few would execute these ideals.
    You are correct regarding entredonneurial. These people are part of the process but don’t do the work per se. They are brokers of information, expertise, doers without reward or security. There are some great insights on entredonneurs in this paper (Chapter 11, page 80)

  3. zh said

    oh great. What an interesting coverage of Social Entreprises and cultural shifts. Will make for good reading this week. Thank you!

  4. Plish said

    You’re welcome, enjoy!

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