Guides for Well-Being By Design

Many organizations are looking to find ways to recover and heal their teams. That can only happen when we design for humans.

This is the first of a three-part series on design for well-being. I’ve written on this subject before, but this is more practice-oriented. It’s designed for those seeking means to recover and curious about what that might entail.

The approach is grounded in designing for humans. This means not treating people as a use case, a variable in an equation, a line-item on a spreadsheet, or some mythical hyper-rational being that can plan her way through discomfort.

What I hope from this is to provide some ways to approach the situation that is of utmost importance to us, as humans: our well-being. Well-being is about bringing together our physical, mental, psycho-social, and emotional parts. We will explore this concept more fully in part two.

It’s about fostering resilience in it’s better sense**: survival and thriving with adversity. This is also about growth and repair together — *healing*.

** Not returning back to something, but to grow and develop with and through change.

The way we do this is to design for humans, which means acknowledging how we think, act, and react to the world. A hyper-rational, logical, 8-point plan of action isn’t what’s required to heal us. We’ll do it in our way, which will have a blend of shared experiences that can bring people together and require time and space for people to travel their own, unique path.

It sounds obvious, but it’s not. I often see organizations looking for a ‘package’ of interventions as if to approach well-being as a problem to be fixed. Well-being is not a project, even if we may start the process to discovering or reclaiming that way. I’d argue that well-being isn’t even a problem — it’s a state we cultivate and part of what it means to be human.

Well-Being Design: A Series

This first article looks at some basic guides developed through practice working with organizations and what I know as a professional familiar with the literature and shared learning on well-being promotion, healing and trauma.

The second looks at well-being itself and the factors that contribute it and how they relate. Well-being is a multi-faceted thing and understanding it means knowing how they come together and why it’s so varied among us.

The third article is taking principles of design and applying it in practice. How do we actually promote well-being in organizations? What are the strategies and approaches that can work and contribute to creating cultures of well-being and healthy people in our organizations, networks, and communities.

Guides for Well-Being Design

In times of depletion and stress, there are some key points to note in designing spaces and initiatives to encourage and promote well-being in an organization.

  1. Humans’ well-being is shaped partly by availability of choice, preferences, skills, capacities, and situations that will vary within and among a group.
  2. Humans vary widely in their ability to self-assess and articulate their needs and circumstances when it comes to well-being. Provide varied opportunities, times, and spaces to allow people to connect to their feelings, thoughts, and sensations.
  3. Well-being is a long-term issue; week-to-week variations in states and perceptions should be expected. Establishing a culture of well-being that endure will outperform well-being projects and time-bound programs.
  4. Our well-being is affected by our social environment and the health and well-being of those around us. The effects of well-being go both ways (healthy people promote health around them and vice versa). (Think: culture of well-being and the power of networks).
  5. Health and well-being is not always given priority or recognized as a need by those in need of help. Moving on or focusing on traditional productivity can be a way to distance or avoid dealing with unpleasant sensations tied to burnout, trauma, stress, and fatigue.
  6. Well-being may correlate with productivity and workplace health, but it is not a line-item variable in an organization’s output. Well-being isn’t a check-box and efforts to treat it like it will fail.
  7. Energy is required to heal, recover, develop, and grow; without the means to charge and re-charge well-being is impossible when people feel depleted. Recharging can be passive (rest) or active (inspiration or reconnection to purpose, accomplishment or craft), and a combination of both is necessary to promote well-being.
  8. Well-being comes from work within an individual, their interactions with others, and the supports around them. This means our work, home, and our communities all contribute to our well-being and designing strategies that consider these is more useful than focusing on one thing.
  9. Well-being is a state, not a trait, yet it’s cultivation is profoundly cultural. It’s dynamic, variable, and affected by the circumstances and situations we find ourselves in.
  10. Don’t assume people know what others have gone through. Collective traumas and experiences have both shared features most can relate to and deeply personal ones. Create space to recognize our own position and that of others in helping people heal together.
  11. Providing space to share and bear witness can be healing on it’s own. A simple invitation to share experiences and to listen to others in an environment that is safe and supportive can make a big difference.
  12. We will heal in our own way. Everyone experiences well-being differently with shared qualities and those that sit only within themselves. Recognize, embrace and acknowledge this shared experience and diversity.
  13. Healing is a process; well-being is an outcome. Despite both of these, traditional metrics will not tell us when we have ‘arrived’ at well-being, rather it will help us ask better questions about how close we are to it.

Designing for well-being accounts for all of these.

Filling Our Glass with Well-Being

There is no single or ‘best’ way to account for these, but the more we recognize the fundamental human features of what brings well-being to our lives we can better design strategies to promote it, protect it, and nurture it.

The analogy of a glass filled with water can suit the situation of well-being. Water is constantly being consumed so the glass continually needs to be filled. We want to make sure there is always enough in the glass when needed. When we are stressed we might drink more water so this will require a refill.

The key is that we often can’t fill the glass any faster than our tap will allow. Big traumas or long-standing periods of depletion of water means it will take longer to refill the glass to the appropriate level.

In the next article, we’ll look at what well-being is and what elements we might want to focus on as designers — which is all of us — when we’re looking to foster health, well-being, rehabilitation and recovery in our organizations.

Keep and be well.

If this is an issue your organization is looking to tackle and you want help creating the kind of well-being and culture that promotes it please reach out; let’s grab a coffee and talk. We start designing for humans by connecting as humans.

Image credits: Hideki Nishiyama on Unsplash, Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash, 21 swan on Unsplash

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Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

2 thoughts on “Guides for Well-Being By Design

  • May 20, 2022 at 4:35 pm
    Permalink

    Have you considered developing a map of the relationships among the 13 points?

    Reply
    • May 20, 2022 at 5:00 pm
      Permalink

      That’s a great question. I’ve not specifically thought how they might be aligned together. There is overlap and both direct and indirect relationships — it might be worth a try. I might need a fourth article in the series!

      Reply

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