In this introduction to Slow Design we outline the principles and key elements.
What do the spoon you used for breakfast, the building in which you live, the streets where you walk, and the air traffic in the sky above you have in common? They were all designed by someone. Everything outside the natural world including both objects and processes has been designed by someone at some point. In fact every one of us designs things every day. Who picked out the clothing you are wearing? Who selected your food for dinner? Who chose your route to work? We are surrounded by and participate in design constantly.
"But wait," you say, "design is about color swatches and throw pillows." That's style. What we are talking about is design, the conscious arrangement of things for a purpose. Admittedly the level of thought required to design air traffic patterns versus your route to work may be different, but the general approach is the same. Which is why becoming more aware and skilled as a designer is helpful for everyone. This is especially true for Slow Design because of the great importance it puts on designing for quality of life.
Slow Design differs from conventional design in several ways. The most notable difference is that it shifts the focus away from design for function or novelty to design for the well being of people and the planet. The primary questions with this slower approach to design include: "What are the qualities of life this design will enhance?", "How will it impact the well–being of people and the environment?", and "Is it necessary?" The answer to these questions helps to direct the design to something that is truly beneficial while seeking to eliminate wasteful and harmful solutions.
We found this to be true when we used a Slow Design approach with our home remodeling clients. In our experience many of our clients undertook a remodeling project because they thought it would make their lives better in some way. While in some cases remodeling did improve the quality of some clients' lives, in many cases, behavioral and furniture solutions were just as effective and entailed the use of fewer resources and generated less waste. By focusing on the quality of life improvements that people ultimately sought rather than the design of the remodel per se, it was possible for us to design simpler and less costly solutions that were better in the long run for both the client and the planet.
Another important component of this slower approach to design is that it is holistic in its approach. This means that it takes into account as many of the impacts of the design as possible. This includes direct and indirect impacts. For instance, some people design their diet to include organic food because of the health advantages for themselves and their families. In addition to looking at the health benefits for people consuming the food, Slow Design looks at the impacts of this design choice on the people who grow the food and the environment where the food is grown as well as the long-term effects on people and nature. The purpose is to eliminate unintended harmful consequences and to seek win-win-win solutions that work well for all concerned.
Since it is holistic, Slow Design is by necessity interdisciplinary. It recognizes the pluralism of the world in which we live and values this diversity as a resource. Often these diverse elements can be configured in such a way that the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Taking advantage of the synergies between diverse elements in this way can lead to significant leaps in the quality of the design and can save time and resources in the long run as we are often able to develop more effective solutions sooner.
One wonderful example of this was a manufacturing company we were working with that decided to hire an on-site nurse practitioner in order to reduce their health insurance premiums. The insurance savings more than paid for all the costs associated with the nurse practitioner, but there were several other quality of life benefits as well. Employee morale improved as people saw this as a tangible expression of caring from the company. It also increased productivity since people working at the company could address their health concerns early on before they worsened, and there was less time lost since they had easier access to health care and fewer off-site health appointments.
While the example above is a beautiful win–win–win design solution for that company, it may not work for every company. The solution worked because of the size and nature of the company. A smaller or larger company in another industry with a different set of resources and issues would likely necessitate a somewhat different solution. This brings us to another principle of Slow Design: design solutions must be tailored specifically to the situation so that they effectively address the issues and are not wasteful of resources. This differs from conventional design's one–size–fits–all solutions that often result in fitting–no–one–well solutions that create a lot of waste.
In order to help tailor the outcome, Slow Design seeks to democratize the design process such that it becomes inclusive and empowering to the people impacted by the design. As we said, we are all designers in one way or another, and we are all affected by the designs of others. Slow Design seeks to include the insights, skills, and aspirations of people and bring these to bear as appropriate on the process of creating our world and our lives.
Putting all of these principles together we arrive at the following definition: Slow Design is a democratic and holistic design approach for creating appropriately tailored solutions for the long-term well–being of people and the planet. To this end, Slow Design seeks out positive synergies between the elements in a system, celebrates diversity and regionalism, and cultivates meaningful relationships that add richness to life.
In many respects, Slow Design echoes some of the principles of Sustainable Design, Integrative Design, and Restorative Design. The impetus behind it is to further refine the goals of design in order to positively address the complexities and challenges we face today. The British designer Alastair Fuad-Luke and Slow Lab have been some of the leading proponents. Permaculture is another closely aligned design approach that shares similar principles and goals. We use Slow Design in our work to help people, organizations, and communities design slower, more fulfilling lives and places. We hope that you are inspired to Embrace Your Slow Life Designer and begin designing for well–being for yourself, your family, and the world.
"Slow design is the spiritual, emotional, and mental art of living, emphasizing creativity and experiences."
~ Alastair Fuad-Luke