Head of department
What does the word wellbeing mean to you in general?
In a nutshell I look at it as physical, mental and emotional health. I talk about the “cool head, warm heart”, by which I mean a considered balance of rational and emotional approach to solving problems. We’ve ended up in a society that has sacrificed common sense, where systems and operations are given priority over the human experience. Wellbeing is where the balance is restored.
What was your motivation to create this department?
I’ve been fascinated for most of my life by how design affects us. Design has the power to change our behavior and affect how we feel. I edited a design magazine for a decade and realized the debate around design was extremely two-dimensional. So I began my own research into the behavioral, physiological and emotional aspects of design. The sum of this research was my first book, Sensual Home, which has sold 100,000 copies and been translated into more than 20 languages. Following this I was asked to begin a department by Lidewij Edelkoort on the theme of wellbeing and I leapt at the opportunity to continue this research with open-minded students.
What is your vision with the well being department?
My hope is that wellbeing becomes embedded in life over time. As a word it has been hijacked by the beauty industry but wellbeing is not a luxury product, it is a basic human right. Really there is no area in which it isn’t relevant today – food, work, travel, the home – and many people are waking up to it. Our mission is to look at society through the prism of the personal and the human experience to see how it can be reconfigured in a healthier and more life-enhancing way.
Where would you see future well being designers in our changing world?
Perhaps it’s easier to pick out a few heroes of the wellbeing cause who have achieved what might once have seemed impossible.
Journalist Tobias Jones studied utopias and has developed a very contemporary relevant shelter with a difference called Windsor Hill Wood.
Arash Derambarsh fought and succeeded in changing legislation, barring food stores from throwing away food and single handedly combatted the epidemic of food waste.
Airbnb is a contemporary, revolutionary platform. It hasn’t just optimised and monetized an idle resource for millions of people around the world, it has employed technology to allow for greater connection between humans; it has used the digital to promote the physical.
Aesop is a successful modern form of patronage, which enables a relatively large, global brand to feel small and personable and to support local people. This happens in the architects and designers they work with for their individual retail outlets but also in their approach to programming, which expands on their brand values and culture, promoting wellbeing in the wider lives of their customers.
Tilda Swinton has created a school that teaches pupils not with
textbooks and exams but with human skills that are relevant to leading
a balanced life.
Ross Bailey is a young entrepreneur who founded Appear Here, like an Airbnb letting space for short term to pop-up ventures.
It circumnavigates the torturous process of renting free and empty space to small (and large) businesses for a short space of time.
It makes a horrid systemic process easy.
More in the field of design Catarina Portas uses retail to highlight Portuguese culture through everyday products – toothpaste, stationery, soap, pots, pans, textiles. It’s not about luxury, it’s about daily use.
On one level it’s a shop but on another level it’s what it represents and the work that’s gone into it – she has literally documented a country’s culture.
Each of these project founder had a passion, usually in light of a problem they faced, and they joined together to make it possible to solve this problem with lateral thinking and common sense to make the world a better place.
This is the wellbeing approach and wellbeing designers can work anywhere, preferably in as many places as possible.
I like the attached list as a manifesto of sorts. In our rapidly changing world we are trying to shape new realities constantly. What do we, as humans, have that won’t soon be able to be done better by machines? Emotional intelligence and wellbeing might be unquantifiable but you cannot copy them either.
No robot will be able to replace them; humans with empathy and skill
will triumph over left brain intelligence.