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  • Ann Wood

Designing for Well-being

Updated: Feb 15

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. 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 now watch it when in a creative rut. Ilse is technically an interior designer, but what makes her fascinating is her holistic approach. 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 first 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 create visceral experiences that help all of us feel connected.

Library date

One of my favorite things to do in New York is to spend time in the Rose Reading Room at the public library. They have a couple of Ilse Crawford books there, A Frame for Life: The Designs of Studioilse being one of my favorites.

Designers must put human experience at the core of the design process so the result is a physical manifestation of human behavior.

–Ilse Crawford

In A Frame for Life, Ilse describes her human-centered 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 and inviting, so we should be considering them in the design process from the start.

Seeing parallels

Ilse also makes her work sensorial. We experience the world through our senses, and she claims that incorporating different types of contrast allows spaces to 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 multi-sensory 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.

A person's a person

Keeping people at the forefront of design makes all the difference. Ellen Lupton and Ilse Crawford have become my design heroes because of their mission to enhance human experiences through design. Empathetic design is cross disciplinary, and it helps all of us feel more human.

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