Register Tuesday | December 18 | 2018

A Life Designed

Three designers discuss the well-designed life

A garbage can was the tipping point for Karim Rashid; a high-impact virgin polypropylene garbage can with swooping handles named Garbo. You may have seen it-Umbra sold more than four million of them after Rashid designed it in 1995. Since then he's designed everything from shoes to music to hotels-and now he's setting his sights on lifestyles.

That we are influenced by design is not shocking, but to employ design as a way to shape our lifestyles and social interactions is a new concept and one that is starting to gain momentum. Business schools and health care institutions are exploring the idea and the concepts can even be applied to the way we live. It would seem that any reality we can conceive, we can also create.

While the rest of the world has been waking up to these ideas, designer Karim Rashid has been living them. This Carlton University-educated, New York-based and internationally renowned designer is a true renaissance man. He DJs, teaches, writes books and he designs-everything. In March 2006, Rashid published Design Your Self: Rethinking the Way You Live, Love, Work and Play. While the book offers an overview of Rashid's life, it also details how he has used the principles of design to structure it. Some of the ideas seem like conventional-if not necessary-bits of wisdom: Make sure your priorities get top billing, for example, and accept the fact that having what you want demands that you make choices about what you don't.

Take clothing. Rashid explains that, while he loves colour, he chooses to wear only white, silver and pink. In choosing a specific palette and living within it, the acts of packing and shopping are simplified. During a recent business trip through Greece, Italy and France, Rashid says his suitcase contained twelve items of clothing, thirteen accessories and only the tech products necessary for business abroad-all in the coordinated colours of pink, white and silver.

Rashid uses similar strategies to enhance his relationship with his wife, his approach to diet and exercise, his home, and the way he balances both his work and his social life to keep them exciting and fulfilling. For example, he chooses to only to have possessions that have meaning and value to him and pares his social obligations down to those people and events that truly add enjoyment to his life. "In Design Your Self, I examine how design is part of everything we do, how we can design our destiny, our own world," he says.

That world is expanding to include career development. Danielle Silverman is a Montreal career coach who sees personal branding as a new trend that allows people to identify and capitalize on their unique values. "Personal branding is about clarifying and communicating what makes you different," she explains.

In order to design the life we want, however, we must be clear about our intentions-and this includes taking actions to refine them. According to Silverman, a purpose-driven life begins with a good deal of reflection on personal strengths and attempts to identify a vision of one's life and values. These then must committed to paper, she contends: "A goal cannot be achieved if it isn't written down. Once it is written down it becomes more clear and you can begin working on the detail."

Silverman says a lot of people find it hard to talk about themselves and their strengths. She also cautions against straying away from what is authentic if you want to be successful. If you are inauthentic, it's not going to work.

The whole thing seems like common sense, until you stop to consider how many people don't actually live that way. Consider how many people you know who organize their lives simply to meet the expectations of their bosses, spouses or their circle of friends, rather than just doing what is important to them. Such an approach ultimately creates a low-simmering tension between how your life is playing out and the way it should be designed.

The Institute for the Creative Process at the Alberta College of Art & Design, also known as The Institute at ACAD, has been showcasing ideas of design-oriented thinking and its effect on human behaviour with their immensely popular recent lecture series, Stirring Culture, which probed the application of design solutions towards a range of social issues, from urban planning to economic development.

As a follow-up to the lectures, the Institute is taking the exploration to a new level with proprietary research in the form of three new concept maps; one which deals with innovation, one with creativity and one with play. Essentially large posters, these maps will serve as a framework for people wishing to apply ideas to real world problems. The Institute is even opening up the process for people to contribute their ideas towards the concept maps through the organization's website.

The driving force behind these initiatives is ACAD president and CEO, Lance Carlson. Carlson is a soft-spoken, unassuming man with a sharp intellect. He believes that design has the power to shape both the world and human behaviour.

Carlson is an academic and an artist. He holds graduate degrees in cultural studies, sociology and design, and is a cultural critic and arts administrator. His personal work resides in selected collections at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Smithsonian. He even consulted with the US Department of the Treasury on the 2003 redesign of US currency. Carlson is taking all of this understanding and using it to elevate the role design plays in shaping in society.

He describes design as a process of moving from a current to a desired state, and emphasizes that designers are particularly skilled at performing this type of work. "It's really the work of the Institute to articulate what the design or creative process is and how we are then able to take it out and apply it to other kinds of situations." It's an area he refers to as human systems. "Virtually all of our human interaction is designed either by clear intent or in a de facto way," says Carlson.

Rashid would likely agree. Indeed, the opportunities to take control of the design of our lives-or even society-seem constrained only by our capacity to imagine a better scenario, develop solutions to achieve it and then cultivate the will to test and refine our ideas until we feel we've got it right. And, as for all the plans that don't work out as expected-at least there's a well-designed garbage can out there that we can toss them into.