How to make the invisible, visible

3 thoughts on how design can connect the actions of our past to better influence the health and wellbeing of our future.

Western society prioritises the present.

We are encouraged to live and think in the here and now. Immediacy over planning, fixing rather than preventing. Cultural psychology has shown us that we see the world differently to our neighbours in the East. We see what is in front of us, they look for the bigger picture.

This is true for every aspect of our lives. We are told to buy things, just-in-time, before they sell out or become irrelevant. Trends shift. Staying up to date, doing the latest thing or thinking a certain way, is key.

The same goes for the way we treat our bodies. Dietary and exercise philosophies shift and oscillate in sequence, often contradictorily. We can find ourselves following a plan one day, which is totally subverted the next, only to be subsequently re-evangelised.

In our society we have little understanding of how our past behaviours and decisions, the choices we make, be it what we eat, how we exercise, how we think, influences our present and future.

How do you feel right now? Tired? Energetic? Sluggish? Focused? You can probably describe how you feel but don’t know why you feel this way. You probably cannot relate it to the last time you felt like this. We take a short-term view and have a narrow perspective on how we feel. We don’t see the patterns.

Brands are starting to develop products which provide complete nutritional sources and functional benefits which improve the body holistically and cumulatively. Do we not risk missing out on the long-term gains by not seeing or understanding the connections between these products and our wellbeing?

We have the data and technology to do this. We have diagnostic tools, smart-wearables and connected stores. Our personal devices capture a constant stream of information about us, simply through our interactions. We know what is in the products we buy in granular detail.

What is lacking is the experience, the language and communication to understand the results and reveal the connections. The invisible needs to be made visible.

Designers have the tools, skills and responsibility to help, by creating solutions that are useful, understandable and safe. So what can we do today to help people see the patterns of tomorrow? Here are three thoughts.

REMOVE THE CREEP FACTOR

In a world where animosity towards targeted ads is common and data sharing is an ever present topic of the press, we need to re-set the bar when it comes to providing and using personal information. People need to be given tools and experiences to make tangible changes. People should be empowered to share how they feel and what they are experiencing, rather than abstracted data which they don’t and can’t understand.

MAKE THE PAST UNDERSTANDABLE

We need to help people move in a positive direction by learning from their past — by making it their present. Technology is overly focused on the present and future — notifications and alerts push us to act and respond. We are bombarded with newness. We need a new design language and experience which connects our use of technology today to our past decisions. We need context and reference. Understanding where we are, through comparison to where we were will help us make better decisions and understand the patterns.

EDUCATE

We are in a new era of holistic wellbeing. We understand and care about the connections between the food and products we take in and the outcomes for our health.While we understand that benefits and improvements can be gradual, we rarely take the time to document and reflect. We need to change the way we think and our expectations, celebrating the preventative rather than the reactive. Reframing short term gains with long term benefits.

So that people can truly benefit from the innovations in consumer products for our health and wellbeing, designers need to help reset the way we think about our past, so that we can take better decisions in our present. This needs to happen in every aspect of our lives, from the experience of the technology we use to our personal daily habits. In doing so we can ensure that people have the tools they need to understand the link between the food and drink they enjoy and the way they feel.

Author: James Ravenhall, Creative Director at NewTerritory.

An independent creative consultancy exploring better ways of living, working and moving.