This article will look at how I believe martial arts principles can make you a better UX Practitioner and how the two connect.
I’ve been practicing some kind of martial art for roughly 22 years. The last 18 years I centered on Wing Tsjun (Wing Tsun/Wing Chun/Ving Tsun) which has existed for about 300 years and is based mostly on the Taoist (Daoist) principle of Wu Wei Wu which can be roughly translated as action without action. The meaning behind this principle is to go with the flow of that which surrounds us without resistance or difficulty.
Doesn’t that sound like the base principle of UX? Creating an experience for the user that is as natural and comfortable as possible without creating resistance to business needs… the perfect flow…
So I’m going to base this article (the 1st of many?) on 4 basic Wing Tsjun principles:
1. If the way is clear move forward
This is the base idea of almost anything we do in both Martial Arts and in UX. If the way/direction/idea is clear, move forward. It wouldn’t make sense to do it any other way.
If you’re going to commit, than commit. If you’re going to try a new layout or colour on your website or app do it well and completely. Making the changes to a part without trying it throughout the site might mean that you have a site that isn’t coherent. For example, how strange is it for a user if we change the font used on the homepage, but the rest of the site is in another font. Aren’t we giving mixed messages?
The next time you want to go ahead with a new concept or idea, try to make sure it won’t break the experience for the user as those users will be reticent to return for future experiences.
2. If you meet resistance, stick to it
Very often in certain Martial Sports we are taught to move in for an attack and if there is any kind of resistance to pull back and look for a new opening however in Wing Tsjun we are taught to stick to the opponent in order to be closer and ready for the opening we are looking for. Here Wing Tsjun uses a mix of sensitivity training and adaptability to be able to understand small shifts in the opponent’s movements.
In a similar way, very often in UX projects we might meet with strong resistance to these “crazy liberal ideas” and in the beginning many of us want to go into a corner and lick our wounds. This is where we stick to our guns. We know UX could make the difference in the product or company so how do we convince stakeholders or later earn the confidence of the users during interviews?
Stick to it! Calmly lay out the pro and cons of your argument, adapt your argument to the feedback you receive. Rather than answering “I don’t know” or “You should…” maybe something along the lines of “I understand your point of view what if we tried looking at from this angle?” or “I like the idea, what if we added…”
These second phrases leave the conversation open to negotiation or adaptability. We have not entered the realm of absolutes, only a work in progress which can lead to new avenues that not even you had thought of yet which is even better!
3. If your opponent is stronger, give way
Gong back to the initial principle of Wu Wei Wu, in Wing Tsjun we are taught that against stronger opponents resistance is generally futile, so why resist? Rather than resist, we adapt our body to “be like water” as Bruce Lee liked to say. We don’t resist, we adapt our body’s energy to divert the opponent’s momentum in a direction that is less harmful to us or that may take them directly into our strike.
In UX we have to adapt constantly. Almost every project has at least one curve ball up its sleeve even with all the planning and strategy. How often do we find difficulty with some team member or technical staff. Problems with system integrations or business models. The UX industry is fraught with obstacle courses.
We UXers generally love our jobs despite all these setbacks and that’s because we’ve learnt to “roll with the punches”. We’ve learnt that if this avenue of action is shut, we just need to find another one. Sometimes it might mean more work or more complicated logistics, but for us the end result is what’s important: Did the user enjoy the experience and did that experience convert to business needs?
So once again we return to adaptability and UX requires a lot of adaptability. The sooner you accept that and relish in it, chances are it’s going to become more enjoyable and rewarding.
4. If your opponent retreats follow
Many Martial Sports train this principle the same way. If my opponent starts retreating because he feels out classed or injured I shouldn’t give him the chance to retreat and regroup his senses. I should keep moving forward until I am sure the threat is over.
This might seem a bit over zealous, but in truth it is to prevent future threat from your opponent. This could be as simple as just being sure they are knocked out so that you can leave or call the police for assistance.
Reading the paragraphs above you might be thinking that I’m suggesting badgering clients or stakeholders until they have no choice but to listen or implement what we are demanding, but that isn’t what I am suggesting at all and I’ll use an example to illustrate what I understand from the above principle
Let’s suppose we have a client or stakeholder that sits down with us for a meeting and we start explaining what UX is and how it should be implemented in their company. I’ve seen the look on people’s faces. At this point they look at you as if saying “Oh no, I’ve been captured by a religious cult nut. They are so going to try to convince me to convert”. They begin to retreat into their shell and you feel like you’ve lost them. Anything you say from that point onwards will probably sound luck crazy mumbo jumbo. Let’s face it, most of us UX evangelists are a bit obsessed with the “Word of UX” or whatever.
The good news is that not all is lost! I usually like to take a millisecond to regroup my thoughts and try to change my angle. Sometimes I ask a series of questions to understand the company profile and objectives (If I haven’t until now). This gets the client communicating with us again and every client likes to talk about their business, it’s their pride and joy! It also helps us to adapt our “pitch” better, giving us the opportunity to present examples with in context of what can be done and some of the results that may be achieved.
The main word I take from the principles above is ADAPTABILITY. Something that is important for succesful UX and Martial Arts. In the articles I just used 4 simple Wing Tsjun principles, but there are many Martial Arts principles that can be applied to UX thinking which is why to me, I feel that Martial Arts can be a huge help in developing many of our UX skills in a different context.
hopefully enough of you will find this interesting enough to warrant a few more articles further exploring the connection between Martial Arts Principles and UX. Let me know if you agree or not with me and why. Let m know if you apply this thinking and how it has worked for you.
All feedback is welcome!