Adobe Stock / eugenesergeev

As HIVE 2016 dean William McDonough taught us, the circular economy defines an approach to design that is being embraced for its impact and intangible benefits along with its positive effect on the bottom line. However, it takes a disciplined approached as this piece outlines.

An architect by training, I’ve always been fascinated watching people experience design and the world around them. I believe that design functions in our lives like the soundtrack that we’re not even fully aware is playing. It sends us subconscious messages about how to feel and what to expect. It’s what environmental psychologists have long described as “place identity” — essentially that the foremost building blocks of our sense of self are actually the spaces in which we live, work and play. It’s what I have to come to simply call dignity.

What inspires me to write about design operates on two levels. On one level, my motivation is deeply pragmatic: I want to change the practice of architecture and design. I want to alter how we build and who we build for. On another level, I’m a believer in the power of design to change lives and to bring dignity to average people, the disenfranchised, and the poor.

In a time of such heightened inequality, the ethical dimension of design has never felt more important. Well-designed spaces are not just a matter of taste or a question of aesthetics; they literally shape our ideas about who we are and what we deserve in the world. That is the essence of dignity. And both the opportunity and the responsibility of design.

Across the world, I have found projects that hold lessons for those who want to dignify their lives and our shared world through design. Drawing on insights from my interview subjects and buildings they created together, I’ve identified five key lessons...
1. Embrace a beginner's mindset.
2. Seek partners, not clients.
3. Build community support.
4. Employ workers and source materials locally.
5. Measure impact.

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