Designing for wellbeing

I’ve been interested in wellbeing for a couple of decades now. Ever since I was a yoga devotee in the relatively early days of it being in Australia in the early-mid 1990s. Certainly well before yoga became mainstream and was held in gyms (!). I can still recall how unknown it was to most people back then. I was interested in yoga and meditation and shiatsu and macrobiotic food and a whole lot of wellbeing-ness that was so ahead of things to come, I had no idea. It’s so interesting to me how we now have cafes with ‘nourish bowls’ and a whole cult of kombucha followers and pickled vegetable fanatics. Japanese people no doubt also find this a fascinating adaptation of what’s been a part of their culture for a veeeeeery long time. Will wellness continue to be of interest in the West? Is it a passing trend that will bore us in 5 year’s time?

It’s hard to say. I hope not, but who really knows.

But while it’s of interest to many, I’m keen to understand how design has become part of the wellbeing equation. Slowly, wellbeing is being designed into our lives so it moves beyond the individual level, and I am all for that. So recently I wrote a post about this for the brand new online magazine Design is Political, whose mission is to ‘encourage and empower everyone to use creative curiosity to solve social problems and make the world a better place’. The first part of that post is republished below with their kind permission. I hope you find it interesting and skip over to Design is Political to read the rest of the article.

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Design is rapidly becoming part of the desire for wellbeing. That is, design in all its manifestations – including ‘the coordinated design of artefacts, services, systems, environments, human action, and many other resources’, according to design researchers.

Wellbeing is understood as being about health and happiness, but it depends on your viewpoint. Some argue that happiness is not part of the wellbeing equation because it ‘can come and go in a moment, whereas wellbeing is a more stable state of being well, feeling satisfied and contented’. While others see happiness as integral to wellbeing. Acknowledging the diversity of views on how to define wellbeing but the growing field that it constitutes, researcher Rachel Dodge and her colleagues argue that it’s time for a new definition of wellbeing that focuses on ‘a state of equilibrium or balance that can be affected by life events or challenges’.

In this post, I’m considering wellbeing in its broadest sense to include all aspects of health, including happiness.

But before we walk too far down the path of wellbeing let’s go back to the idea of design. Enter stage left, service design, arguably a relatively new player in the design arena. As Meld Studios points out, ‘service design is specifically talking about the process and act of designing services’. Adding to this, the Service Design Network manifesto says that service design is about and for organisations that ‘want to improve their services strategies, offerings and the user experiences’. There’s a lot of confusion around this particular facet of design practice but this post about what it is and what it IS NOT is a useful read, along with this definition and this very good overview. In a nutshell, service design is about planning and designing services, and all that entails – people, service models, communication, and sometimes, materials.

It’s easy to think about the topic of service design in the context of the digital space. Have you ever come across a badly designed website (I mean, who hasn’t?)? Well, some service designers assist organisations to fix that based on the research into the usage patterns, behaviours and needs of those using the website (and those that don’t but they would like to) within the framework of the organisation’s overall objectives. But service designers also work in a host of other industries and spaces to design processes, systems, and frameworks that mean that the end user (for want of a better term) is having the best experience possible. In some cases, this might mean thinking about how spaces flow. And in the context of wellbeing, this might include spaces that are a focus of health, such as hospitals, and even sporting complexes.

How can service design make a difference in wellbeing?

Let’s look at a few examples.

Service design in cancer care

Health is a big part of wellbeing. And cancer care is huge part of contemporary health practice.

Service design was used to improve cancer care in the Grampians region of Australia, a rural area about a three hour drive from the city of Melbourne. In this area, just one clinician provided the majority of chemotherapy required. They also had a high caseload and travelled long distances to see patients on a routine basis. The ability to service this need had a number of extreme pressure points. Studio Thick was engaged to work with a number of key stakeholders to design a better system to provide the level of cancer care needed.

Studio Thick worked with a number of key stakeholders to design a better system to provide the level of cancer care needed

A two day design forum was key to the process used in the case. Careful planning of this event was required because of the range of stakeholders involved, some of whom were commercial competitors.

According to the service designers:

“By the end, service providers had sketched the components of a universally viable chemotherapy service model, that addressed both public and private interests, including a funding and workforce model”.

You can read more about the background, process, and implementation of the new service design model created here. I think this quote about the outcomes of the project says it all:

“The first day the clinic opened it was fully booked with three new local patients and eight transfers from the private system, demonstrating the uptake of demand in the region and the desire for both public and private options. Both public and private providers exist in harmony, and the model has been used as a statewide example of public/ private partnership”.

If you’d like to read the rest of this post where I share 2 more examples of how design is being used in wellbeing, click here to jump over to the orignal article at Design is Political. And while you’re there, take a look at some of the amazing articles they’ve published so far. It’s quite an inspiring smorgasbord!