Research & Design Strategy

Design research lessons from the yoga mat

August 24, 2017

I’ve been spending a lot of the time on the mat lately – the yoga mat that is – and have been finding some valuable parallels between what my yoga teachers guide me to do and how to approach a good design research practice.

While for many people yoga is a physical activity, at its core it is a spiritual and mental practice and the foundation for meditation. Much the same, research is the foundation for good design and there are several lessons from the mat we can apply to a design research practice.

“Root to rise”

This is a common cue in yoga that reminds the yogi to set a good foundation with whatever part of the body is touching the ground. It sounds easy enough, but it requires intention and focus.

This has two parallels with design. First, in a broader design sense, “root to rise” is a good reminder that design should be rooted in humans. When we have a good foundation and “roots,” good design follows. Secondly, related specifically to design research, it speaks to good planning. In yoga, there is keen attention to alignment of all parts of the body for a productive and safe practice. Similarly, we need alignment on the objectives and questions we will answer in research before we go into the field or we risk getting off-balance.

“Make space”

One of the most difficult things to do in yoga is clear the mind. The best teachers remind yogis to set aside the past or the future and be mentally (not just physically) present while on the mat. I try to make the only voice I hear be that of the teacher, not all the other voices in my head replaying past or rehearsing future conversations.

When we have a good foundation and “roots,” good design follows.

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