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  • Ann Wood Vittitow

Designing for Well-being

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

I believe that design has the power to elevate people’s everyday experiences with brand interactions and beyond. People’s well-being can be enhanced through thoughtful design, helping them feel more informed, delighted, connected, and involved in the world.

Cue in one of my design heroes, the woman who expanded my perception of design, the master of well-being design: Ilse Crawford ✨

The following outlines my interpretation of Ilse’s well-being design approach, coupled with my own insights and applications of this in my graphic design work.

Ilse Crawford: interior/well-being design extraordinaire

Designers must put human experience at the core of the design process so the result is a physical manifestation of human behavior…good design is about anticipating, planning, making conscious choices in an integrated way from the start, rather than building something that then needs to be ‘fixed’ with a sense of decoration.

–Ilse Crawford

I first heard of Ilse through watching the interior design episode of the Netflix documentary series, “Abstract” (highly recommend!). Ilse is an interior designer, but she pioneered a truly human-centric approach that spans across disciplines. She and her team create spaces that help people feel more human, where subconscious needs are met and human values such as empowerment and community are demonstrated at the forefront.

I still watch this episode starry-eyed! Ilse has both validated my beliefs in human-centricity and inspired me to advocate for this ‘designing for well-being’ approach in my own work.

Design is not a look. It’s a tool to enhance our humanity.

- Ilse Crawford, Abstract, Ilse Crawford: Interior Design

Designing for well-being process

First things first: integrate design from the beginning Similarly with my process, Ilse advises that from the beginning of projects, design should be integrated with people’s experiences, not applied as an after-thought.

Design takes countless forms, including service design, spacial design and architecture, interior design, furniture selection, print materials, physical product design, digital ecosystems, packaging, and much, much more. Each of these touchpoints can consciously and subconsciously communicate valuable information, and each touchpoint can interact with each other at varied times.

When these touchpoints are strategically designed around people’s current and future desired behaviors, they feel intentional yet organic.

Step 1: strategize & interrogate Once establishing design as both a method and a form, Ilse’s begins her process with strategizing and interrogation of people and the environment, putting human needs at the forefront.

  • What goals does this brand want to achieve?

  • What pain points are present with this brand, within and outside of its environment?

  • What spaces will this brand live in?

  • Who are the people involved in this brand’s ecosystem?

  • How are different groups of people currently interacting with the brand? What are desired interactions?

And of course, many more questions and strategic explorations are needed based on the project. The bottom line: ask questions that prioritize understanding of people’s experiences.

Step 2: empathize Ilse claims that “empathy is a cornerstone of design.” Words to live by! When we can strip away our assumptions and put ourselves in the shoes of people we’re designing for, the impact can be profound.

  • How could people’s environments and circumstances affect the way they’re interacting with this brand?

  • What do people need at different stages of brand interactions to feel fulfilled?

  • What values can this brand bring that will help people feel better informed, connected, delighted—more human?


Multi-disciplinary design

We should fight for the unmeasurable human values from the outset…we must look at projects from physical and emotional perspectives, practical and poetic, individual and social before creating a design that engages us physically, emotionally, subliminally, and sensorially, in order to make a place that enhances life and enables us to thrive.

- Ilse Crawford, A Frame for Life: The Designs of Studioilse

As I mentioned before, design can take countless forms, and these forms must work together to tell unified stories. Brands and experiences are never isolated; successful design involves multi-disciplinary solutions that ebb and flow as people’s wants and needs change. People build memory and perceptions over time, over multiple different channels. Successful solutions communicate core values and valuable information through multiple mediums.

For example, if one of a brand’s core values is trust, how can ‘trust’ be communicated at different times, through different mediums?

Sensorial design

Ilse has been a leader in the world of multi-sensory design. We are our bodies; we experience the world through our senses. They give us valuable information that helps us live our lives and make decisions.

Sensorial design influences emotions, emotions influence experiences! People make mental and emotional connections when the senses are engaged. When multiple senses can communicate the same story and values, magical things can happen! For example, a cup of coffee is much more than a product—it can presented as completely different experiences:

A cup of coffee can be served in a tactile ceramic mug, crafted from a shape that enhances the coffee’s aroma, which makes a soft clinking sound as it’s sat on a marble counter in front of you. A cup of coffee can also be served in a thin paper cup, thrust over the counter to you as you also try to pay, the cup scorching from the heat, which leads to you almost dropping it. A wide spectrum of sensations are experienced in these 2 scenarios, and these sensations translate into emotional responses, painting an overall experience. Which of the 2 coffee experiences would you rather have to start your day?


Ilse Crawford’s well-being enhancing process inspires me to keep human needs at the forefront of my work, and to incorporate multi-disciplinary approaches. Design has the power to create incredible experiences, and I love getting to be a part of it!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on designing for well-being! Please feel free to comment, or get in touch with me on here or LinkedIn.

Thank you!


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