Design is the conscious arrangement of things for a purpose. Everything outside of the natural world has been designed by people at some point. Good design is almost invisible because it seems so natural and in harmony with the elements and the purpose. Think of pencils, door knobs, plates, silverware, doors, windows, books, egg cartons, and the ultimate in good design, the wheel.
Design is not just confined to things. It applies to systems, processes and experiences as well. As we arrange the sequence, the timing, the people, the setting, etc., we design not only the world around us, but what happens in it.
Just as design is everywhere, everyone is a designer. We vary in terms of the awareness and skill we bring to the design process. However, by our act of choosing, we are all designers.
Design tends to be most successful when we are clear on the purpose and when we understand the elements with which we are working. In designing one's own life, understanding oneself is critical. The better we know ourselves—our personality, our behavior, our skills, and our aspirations—the better we can factor these into the process. Likewise, the better we understand the other elements in our lives, the better we can design a life that is in harmony with our circumstances.
The earth is the source of everything we need to live, and therefore it is vital for us to understand how we fit into earth's living systems. This understanding is currently called environmental sustainability. There are a number of benefits to developing our awareness in this way. Nature is a supremely elegant and beautiful designer, and there is much to learn from studying how natural systems function. Our disregard of these systems comes at a great cost to us as we threaten our survivability with increased pollution and resource scarcity. The better we understand the natural world, the more we can work with these systems and realize benefits on the physical, the psychological, and, some would include, the spiritual level.
While sustainability describes how we can live in harmony with the planet, we use the good life to describe those human goals that have proven over time and across cultures to offer the deepest sense of well being. While the specifics of the good life vary from person to person and over the course of one person's life, the good life usually includes a combination of the following qualities:
In the past, human life was closely tied to the rhythms of nature, other people, and the human body. With the emergence of industrial culture and our economy in which time is money, we have shifted to an increasingly rapid pace of life. We have learned to produce fast, consume fast, and live fast. While humans are adaptive and some people enjoy aspects of this sped up pace, there have been significant negative consequences for many people and the earth. Most notably, the current consumption rate of the earth's natural resources and the production rate of toxins are not sustainable. We are fouling our nest, threatening important eco-systems, and depleting essential resources like clean water and arable land.
While the psychological toll on humans has not been as dramatic as the environmental consequences, at a certain point consuming more no longer contributes to our satisfaction. Studies suggest a higher rate of consumption may eventually begin to diminish our sense of well being. We experience increasing stress as we spend more time and energy affording and managing all the stuff we think we need to be attractive, happy, and successful.
Enter the idea of slow, by which is meant spending the appropriate amount of time to truly engage with what one is doing. The concept of slow was first used to offer a contrast to fast food. Slow food means taking the time to prepare local and whole foods and savoring the time spent eating them. The term slow has since been extended to apply to all facets of life including travel, cities, sex, and parenting. In general, slow living means living consciously with intent and in a way in which resources are not wasted. Instead, time and resources are used creatively and appropriately to meet what is essential and fulfilling.
Concurrent with the emergence of the slow life movement has been the idea of slow design. At its core slow design advocates thoughtful design for human well being, using the principles of environmental sustainability. Slow design is inherently holistic and takes into account the long term and a wide range of natural and human concerns. It shifts the focus away from designing things for market-driven needs to designing for the purpose of optimizing the well being of people and nature. (There goes our Coca-Cola account!)
Another value of slow design is the democratization of the design process such that it becomes more inclusive and empowering to the people impacted by the design. It recognizes that we are all designers with insights, skills, and aspirations to bring to bear on the process of creating our world and our lives.
Beyond these broad concerns are more specific principles which describe how we might accomplish these slow design goals. To learn more about these issues from a designer's perspective check out the slow design links below.
It all starts with consciousness and intent. You are the designer of your life, and the more you are aware of this and embrace the task creatively and knowledgeably the more rewarding the results will be. We think slow living and slow design offer valuable frameworks for slow life design and creating the good life for yourself and the world. The more you learn about how natural systems work and what truly contributes to your well being, the better a designer you will be.
Learn more about natural systems
Permaculture - a design system for human environments.
The Ecological Footprint - a tool for measuring how many resources we use.
Learn more about Slow Living
The Slow Movement - A description of the whole Slow Movement and its sub-categories.
Carl Honore's thoughts about the movement.
Learn more about Slow Design
Slow Design - Our full description of Slow Design.
SlowLab - an early statement of slow design.
Alastair Faud-Luke has written extensively on slow design, mostly from a product designer's perspective. One of his more complete articles is "Slow Theory: a paradigm for living sustainably?"
Learn more about The Good Life
Create The Good Life - our website with thoughts and tools to help you get there.
© Beth Meredith and Eric Storm, January 2010
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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