Transcript from my presentation at IxDA Sydney meetup 23 January 2014:
Have you ever learned a new skill and found out that you’ve also learnt something totally unrelated to that skill? This is what happened to me as I started learning the style of Kung fu called Wing Chun last year. It’s a style invented by a woman in China around 300 years ago. So it was designed for people of smaller stature, like me. One of the most famous proponents of Wing Chun is Bruce Lee who was also around the same height as me but still kicked arse. Our commonality probably stops there though. Anyway, I’ve learned 4 principles so far during my kung fu training that I feel are also key to good UX design.
Everything strong starts with a good foundation and a sound structure. In Wing Chun, you start with a stance called the sheep shearing stance to build and maintain that sound structure. It’s called a sheep shearing stance because it looks like you’ve got a sheep between your legs. In Wing Chun, everything comes from a good structure and biomechanics. The stronger your structure, the more force you can generate more efficiently. If your structure is weak, doesn’t matter how strong you are, much of your force will be wasted.
Why is a good foundation and structure important in UX? Without a sound process and methodology, it is difficult to come up with good designs, unless you fluke it, of course. That’s why knowledge of design processes, frameworks and principles are so important, especially if you’re starting out in UX. Matthew Magain from UXMastery, in his very cool sketch note video titled ‘What the #$%@ is UX Design?‘, mentions that UX has a low barrier of entry. But that doesn’t mean that you can just dive in without knowing at least knowing how to tread the water. You’ll probably have to get rescued or risk drowning. Try arguing for a design decision just based on opinions and you’ll know what I mean. And unfortunately, this happens a lot in a lot of organisations.
Wing Chun kung fu has something unique to its system and it’s called the centreline theory. What’s the shortest distance between any two points? The shortest distance between your fist and the opponent’s face is also a straight line. So most attacks in Wing Chun are performed in a straight line towards your opponent’s centre.
Most users and customers also look for the shortest path between their need and their goal. Directness in UX helps your design convey the message faster and helps your customer get to there goal faster. When you’re writing copy for your website, remember, you’re not writing a suspense novel, unless you actually post your suspense novels on your site. When you’re designing a checkout workflow, remember, you’re not designing a crossword puzzle for the customer to solve. Your customer is not on your website to start up a relationship with you. They just want to get shit done and get the hell outta there. Directness is vital.
Economy of movement
Who’s watched a kung fu movie here? What’s one of the first things you notice in kung fu movies, besides hot chicks who can fight. One of the first things you notice is how exaggerated and theatrical all those movements are. In every martial arts movie, you see these martial artists performing all kinds of acrobatic movements and taking their bodies through all sorts of contortions. It would probably be cool if you can do all that but most of us mortals have trouble getting off the couch, let alone do a Van Damme split, especially if you’re wearing skinny jeans. Wing Chun kung fu practitioners are a bit lazier. We like to preserve our energy as much as possible and hence don’t do any fancy moves such as roundhouse kicks or flying kicks. Why do a ridiculous roundhouse kick when you can just kick them in the balls?
This is where the concept of lean UX comes in. Why waste time, energy and money writing that big fat user testing report when no one’s going to read it anyways? Why bother designing all those detailed screens if they’re not going to get you the clicks and the conversions?
One of the key skills you need to learn in Wing Chun is sensitivity. Sensitivity doesn’t mean looking like this guy. It means being sensitive to your opponent, their movement, their intention and the direction of their force without pre-empting them. Wing Chun practitioners spend hours and hours building up their sensitivity by practicing something called Chi Sau which literally translates to sticky hands. In close range, your hands are always in contact with your opponent’s so that you can read their movements and respond accordingly.
This level of sensitivity requires you to be relaxed. Every Wing Chun teacher will tell you, the more relaxed you are, the more force you can generate, which is completely opposite to what we’ve been made to believe as we grow up. You need to be harder, better, faster, stronger! Not according to this guy (Charles Darwin).
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
You need to be more adaptable, adapting and changing to your environments. Adaptability comes from being able to sense changes in the environment and respond.
In your UX career too, you will face a lots of constantly changing external forces – user needs, business needs, technical constraints, budget cuts, organisational restructures and the list goes on. You don’t have to be the smartest designer around to deal with those forces, you just have to be sensitive and adaptable. Yes, you have your foundation, your knowledge and your experience but if you can’t change with the needs of your industry, your employer or your users, you will make life more difficult for yourself. This reminds me of one of Bruce Lee’s famous quotes:
When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Water can drip and it can crash. Be water, my friend.
So there you go ladies and gentleman, those are the 4 principles from Wing Chun kung fu that you can apply to your own UX careers and kick some arse.