Designing for Well-being
Updated: May 12
Being a believer that design is storytelling (see my last blog for reference), I am also a believer that design can be used to enhance the human experience. Sure, projects can seem stagnant, merely 'things', but they have the potential to be so much more than that. I'm fascinated by how design can influence people and their behavior, and consequently how behavior can influence design. Cue in: Ilse Crawford.
I became aware of Ilse about a year ago from watching the interior design episode of the Netflix documentary series, "Abstract". This episode got me so jazzed about design that I would watch it when I was in a creative rut. Ilse has her own interior design studio, Studioilse, and she's also a renowned author and teacher. I find her approach fascinating: she works to connect people and enhance the human experience through interior design. Instead of adding finishes to products and spaces as an after thought, she maps out how people behave and conforms her approach to those journeys. She believes that design is much more than a surface level, that it can lend to visceral experiences that help all of us feel connected.
When in New York
Fast forward to this past mid February when I traveled to New York City for an interview. While taking in the enchantment that is the New York Public Library, I decided to check out their catalogue to see if any of Ilse's books were available. Lucky day—A Frame for Life: The Designs of Studioilse was!
Designers must put human experience at the core of the design process so the result is a physical manifestation of human behavior.
In A Frame for Life, Ilse describes her approach. She claims that 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". I love this approach of making the bigger purpose an integral part of projects. It's subliminal qualities that help brands and places feel natural, so we should be considering them in the design process from the start.
Ilse also makes her work sensorial. We experience the world through our senses, and she claims that by including contrast in her work, spaces can feel more natural and balanced. This approach reminded me of Ellen Lupton's process (again, see last blog for reference). She believes design can and should be a sensory experience in order to be accessible and connect with people emotionally. In her book Design is Storytelling, Ellen dedicates a whole chapter to multisensory design. She says something similar to Ilse: "We experience the world with all our senses, using data about the environment to move around, avoid danger, and communicate with others". She looks at this from a graphic design perspective though—she discusses how materials and shapes give us information in product design, along with how we gather cues to smell and taste through color.
But how does it make you feel?
Since learning more about Ellen Lupton and Ilse Crawford, I've tried to incorporate some of their approaches into my own work. I consider: how will people use my designs? Where will they be when interacting with it? How can my designs be used to give people information, connect with others, and/or make their day even a tad more delightful? I put this at the forefront in my Derby identity.
I first created an illustrated pattern to represent people's favorite parts of the Derby festivities, thinking about the audience from the beginning. What's relevant and exciting to them?
Next, I thought about how these people would use my pattern. What items could I print it on that would be useful for them? How do they celebrate the Derby? I know a lot of men like to go all out on Derby fashion in Louisville, so a bow tie was an obvious execution. I then created a matching pocket square for the ultimate sophisticated ensemble. While this project isn't informative per se, it's a design that can connect people through shared experiences and help make their celebrations more delightful.
A person's a person
Keeping people at the forefront of design does so much good. Ellen Lupton and Ilse Crawford are experts at this, and they've been able to pave the way for others to do the same through their processes, making the world a more connected place. Empathetic design is cross disciplinary, and it helps all of us feel more human.