"The dharma of fire is to burn, the dharma of water is to be wet."
Dharma is one of those words that has no definitive equivalent in other languages. It's conceptual origins lies with the Sages and Rishi's of the Vedic Culture in India, who detached themselves from worldly affairs to contemplate upon the deeper nature of reality around them.
The inquisitive mind looks for underlining patterns and influences in the world and constructs them into concepts that give insight and clarity to our place in the environment. For these Sages the distilling of reality around them revealed the concept of dharma and it's application to create harmony in their place in the universe.
Dharma is considered inherent in the very nature of all things and all beings, the eternal law of the cosmos, the foundation of the substance of reality. Being an abstract concept, what is dharma and it's application is open to interpretation based on cultural perspectives and worldviews of various schools of thought.
Understanding of dharma is to understand the underlying quintessential nature of the universe, while the object of design is to find, create and refine the most functional solution to a set of environmental variables that enhance our relationship with the environment and personalities around us.
Dieter Ram’s well quoted Ten Principles of Good Design express his meditation upon an extensive career as a designer. “Back in the early 1980s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Aware that he was a contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design? As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design.”
“Good design is unobtrusive, Good design is honest."
The correlations to the concept of dharma and the purpose of design should be obvious to the discerning reader.
Andy Rutledge article of par excellence: The Design Lesson: 1 of 1 is well deserving of its title. Here he explains the application of thedharma of design
In graphic design, nothing is what it actually is. Everything other than content is representative of something else. Additionally, much of the content is also merely representative of something other than what it actually is.
For the designer, a line is not a line. A box is not a box. A gradient is not a gradient. An arrow is not an arrow. A sharp or rounded corner is never simply that. And only in the most mundane and pedestrian circumstances is any color used in design actually representative of the color itself. In essence, nothing is what it would seem to be.
If you actually believe that designing content means you should add a line or a box or a gradient for its own sake, you’re no longer designing—you’re cluttering. if you have not read this article - read it, learn it, make it one with your practice
There is a lot of dialogue about simplicity as a global design atheistic takes shape, simplistically in life is not without effort and the is a mountain of rejection next to focal point of simplicity.
Take as an example the common t-shirt. Starting out as an undergarment and due to its simplicity, adaptability to unlimited body sizes, it is one of the most ambiguous pieces of clothing on the planet. There may be variations and gradual refinements over time but essentially the design is the same, two large pieces of fabric sewn up both sides with a hole cut in the top middle for the head and two loops of fabric for the arms. For the goal of dressing a human form it is a perfect design, so perfect is it forgettable and has become a blank canvas for ideas, style and aesthetics.
The design has found its essential nature, the Dharma of Design.
Another example is our eating tools, the knife, fork and spoon, or even more refined still, chopsticks. The essential functional use of these objects is defined by the form and medium they are created with. There is no friction between their form and use. Again because the design has found it's essentail nature, the objects have become a blank canvas, a starting point for new ideas.
And lasty because it's the talk of the town, the iPhone and iPad, ( sorry mobile tablet computing devices ) perfect in it' simplicty as an object. A blank canvas for ideas, style and aesthetics.
Mining the Dharma of Design, the designer can then express their personality and taste through their work. Iteration after iteration, to refined perfection, like cutting a gemstone until it refracts the light of their being.