Mindfulness: Sustainability for the Mind

Mindful Design:
Curious, Creative, Compassionate, Collaborative, Craftsmanlike, Communicative, Courageous, Charismatic, Critically intelligent…
and many more Cs.

Mindful heart, heartfelt mind
Mindfulness is everywhere. So much so that it’s already almost a cliché. Quite apart from widespread adoption by the meditating classes, it has been officially taken up, on both sides of the Atlantic, in corporate business, hospitality and leisure, education, health and even politics. Employee benefits of reduced stress, enhanced productivity and improved overall wellbeing impact favourably on the bottom line; it’s win-win for both people and profit.
But it hasn’t caught on – yet (early 2018) – in design.

1. Because design can’t be good unless it’s mindful anyway?
2. Because designers are a breed apart, already automatically and instinctively practising mindfulness?
3. Because designers have self knowledge pre-loaded as standard equipment, eliminating the need to practise mindfulness?
4. Because designers are innately chilled individuals with no need for the stress reductive capability of mindfulness?
5. Because designers don’t read books or take courses so the mindfulness wave has passed them by?
Make no mistake. Everyone needs mindfulness – unless they are already a perfectly enlightened being in a perfect world (which would have to be a different one from this, right?). Anyone with even the slightest discontent, disconnection, stress, malfunction, malady, anxiety, unease or dis-ease (not primarily physical), is a prime prospect for its benefits. And that means everyone. Designers same as anyone else.
In fact there is a particular, unique connection between mindfulness and design. It is because, first and foremost, the practise of mindfulness requires us to pay attention to our own mind. Surprise. But ask yourself – how much time do you spend with your attention turned inside on your own thoughts, emotions and consciousness? How much time do people generally spend doing this? Not much? Very little? Pretty much none at all? Because it’s scary. It’s unknown waters, untrodden paths – and they’re all inside us, which would suggest it was familiar territory. Not a bit of it.
Mindfulness demands inwardness, a turning of the consciousness towards what is inside our heads, as distinct from normal ‘externality’ – an awareness of things, people and issues that exist outside ourselves and are tackled with external tools. Once you start examining what’s happening in your own inner realms – what drives your and others’ behaviour, how to deal with that daily and how to design for it – you automatically engage with a design process; the one that makes you who you are.
Many and multiple influences, elements and factors have made us who we are. History, genealogy, DNA, ethnicity, tradition, education, culture. All that sounds out of our control. It’s a revelation, and a scary one, that we ourselves can and should take control of ourselves. This is the core and the key to mindfulness; bizarre as it may sound, we are taken hither and thither by our own mind, controlled by it. Which means out of control, actually. With mindfulness we consciously and compassionately take our mind under our own control. ‘A mind is under the protection of mindfulness,’ says the Buddha.
Design is already nearer the heart of mindful practice than most other professions – accountancy or insurance or gravedigging or farming or whatever – because, even if you’re designing invisible components for a humdrum engineering project, it’s a transfer of ideas and imagination, the product of the mind, into 2- or 3-dimensional reality. It’s called Creativity, and designers are already right up there at the coal face.
Which is not to say they don’t need mindfulness. There’s an argument that they need it more than anyone, precisely because of that inner creative process that transfers ideas into reality. Mindfulness is the key to the creative process that makes fulfilled and effective human beings. We design ourselves. We create ourselves.
Then there’s the argument that designers’ responsibility is to the world, to humanity at large, because they make the environment we inhabit and the things we use in it. It’s not as clear cut as that of course, because there’s always the client, and predominantly design is practised in the service of profit. But to serve profit, it has to serve people. And to successfully serve people, design has to be practised by people mindful of people.
Which is why Mindful Design is so important at this point in human history. After a generation, sustainability has now been incorporated into design practice as an essential standard. The next step is mindfulness, which is sustainability for the mind, and which already embraces the underlying philosophy of sustainable design. We need to turn our attention to designing a sustainable world, to fixing its myriad problems. That won’t happen without Mindful Design, because it creates both the world we want to live in, and the people we want to be to live in it.