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Improve your quality of life in quarantine with these design tips

Apply a handful of design touches to your surroundings to brighten your life, whether out in the world or hunkered down indoors.

Improve your quality of life in quarantine with these design tips
[Images: Arkadivna/iStock; mihalis_a/iStock]
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Chances are your life feels a whole lot smaller because of the quarantine. You are most likely interacting with fewer people, you’re staying home, and when you do go out, your radius is limited. It’s these conditions that make the design of your everyday life so important.

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You may not think much about design, but design is all around you—literally everything you see, touch, hear or interact with has been designed by someone. And when your world closes in, the design of the things around you makes a difference to your quality of life. Every little thing matters more than it did before—because it is magnified as a part of your new reality.

Design is also important in terms of bigger things. “Design is ubiquitous,” says Sam Aquillano, Founder and Executive Director of Design Museum Everywhere. “It’s part of your daily life in terms of products, buildings, and clothes, but it’s also evident in the systems around us.” From healthcare and education to financial and corporate systems, design (or lack of intentional design) impacts our world.

Often design is invisible, and sometimes we know great design by its absence. At design school, designers learn, “Comfort is the absence of awareness.” Says Aquillano, “If design is done well, you don’t think about it.” When design works, you can just flow through your day. You don’t notice the way your toothbrush fits in your hand, the way the shift in your car locks into the right gear, or the knife that slices effortlessly through carrots. It’s when designs don’t work that you are frustrated by them—the spray bottle of cleanser that always clogs or the face mask with the uncomfortable ear loops.

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But whether or not you notice it, design can enhance your life in a number of ways.

It makes your life easier. Design facilitates your experience or creates friction. Your elderly neighbor who has mobility challenges may find friction in her condo’s floor plan, complaining it’s tough for her to get around; your colleague may rave about her experience with a new collaboration software because it makes it so easy to capture ideas while working in a group; or your friend may have a delighted or surprised reaction when a cup holder fits perfectly on a shopping cart, so her coffee cup can easily travel with her while shopping.

It helps along self-improvement. Great designs improve your life in important ways. If you want to get in shape, fitness apps prompt you to move more, and if you want to get better sleep, a pillow that elevates your head can help you stop snoring and get better rest.

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It reinforces who you are. Design can also communicate your values to others. If you’re committed to the environment, your reusable, easy-to-clean lunch containers may contribute to your sense of self. Likewise, if you’re a beer connoisseur, the microbrew app that allows you to track and rate beers, connect with other aficionados, and earn badges for your good and diverse taste is rewarding.

To start applying design to your life, try these simple strategies.

Practice empathy

Design is most effective—and best—when it is based on deep empathy for the people who will be using it. “Empathy is one of the most important elements of design,” says Aquillano. It is the water bottle with a little straw, so you don’t get water in your face when drinking on the go, the coffee maker with a drip tray that holds a full cup of coffee for those times when you forget to put the cup under the spout, or the putter whose head fits in the cup on the green and locks onto the ball, allowing you to pick up the ball without having to bend down. These designs facilitate your experience and remove friction.

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Be intentional with your surroundings

Considering your own experience and being intentional about what’s around you is important. You can intentionally incorporate great design solutions based on your needs and your observation of beautiful designs around you, infusing your values in your choices.

Says Mica Scalin, managing partner of Another Limited Rebellion, “Your physical space is often a representation of what’s going on in your mind.” You can create the conditions for a better experience—even if they are less than optimal. “You can’t always create the perfect environment,” says Scalin. “But your physical space contributes to your brain space and the ability to be at your creative best.”

Focus on personal fulfillment

So how should you design your own experience? Aquillano recommends two things: What makes you happy, and what you need to accomplish. If you want to get outside more, you might decide to plant a garden (or place a potted flower on your fire escape).

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If you want to ensure your garden bears fruit, you might use an app that reminds you to water it at certain times each day. If you want to bond with your toddler daughter, you might order a child’s set of gardening tools, so she can participate with you. Incorporating design in these ways can help improve your skills, but can also connect you with others (like your toddler daughter). “You should step outside yourself in order to be empathetic to your own desires and needs,” says Aquillano.

It’s also helpful to consider what you’d like to remove from your day, whether it’s turning off the news to avoid pessimism or donning headphones to seal out the sounds of traffic. Design doesn’t have to be challenging and it is significantly influenced by your intentionality and your mindset.

Life may feel small because of the quarantine, but design can be a powerful part of your daily life. Appreciate those designs that bring you joy and turn toward your own life to design your best experience.

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Tracy Brower, PhD, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work.