Designing design: insights inspired by Kenya Hara, Part 1

Design thinker Kenya Hara’s life and work is a quest to uncover new ways of seeing and thinking for designers. He champions human desire, creativity and imagination. As I read his book Designing Design, I keep drawing connections for the therapeutic space. His writings have implications for design therapy which I’ll begin to gather here. I’ll also point towards design therapy prompts. Please note that these ideas are an initial thesis that have not been tested.

1. Unknow yourself and others for truthful encounters

“The more firmly we’re convinced that we’ve identified an object, the less precisely we understand it.” — Kenya Hara
Martin Buber (1878–1965), philosopher and religious thinker would agree. Buber distinguishes I-Thou and I-It relationships as the two modes of existence we experience. I-Thou relationships are personal, real meeting where surprising and new dimensions of reality can arise. I-It relationships are emotionally removed, one-sided experience of knowing, using and categorizing a person or thing.

Kaoru Mende: matches

What if a patient re-designs something they deem as ordinary and look at it with fresh eyes? Conceptually? According to Hara, re-designing something allows us to “correct and renew our feelings about the essence of design, hidden within the fascinating environment of an object that is overly familiar to us that we can no longer see it.” What if we re-designed a special pair of glasses to help us see with magic powers? Or a hat that would change our attitude for the day, would that help us to see ourselves and others differently?

2. Awaken the senses and develop greater awareness

“People imagine the world and interpret it when outside stimuli awaken the mountain of their internally stored memories.” — Kenya Hara
The term ‘haptic’ means relating or pleasant to the sense of touch. As babies, the basic things that we learn are the very first things that we do to start to navigate the world and make meaning. Our bodies learn and experience physical acts such as eating and playing; our bodies remember the emotions we experience and we continue to mature as social beings.

Shuhei Hasado: geta (traditional Japanese raised wooden sandals)

Perhaps we can use design exercises to help patients unravel the traumas that have been trapped in their bodies, to bring patients to a place where they can sense something and start to heal. Through design, patients can enter into their trauma indirectly.

3. Sensory perceptions architect our realities

“The mind is not singular and seated within the head; it exists throughout the body, like a system of tsubo, or acupoints. ” — Kenya Hara
We are sense-driven creatures. Our bodies are continuously responding to external stimuli, acquiring new information, comparing it with previous information and memories invoked by the new input. Images are layered upon images, re-arranging and re-processing what we experience.

Kenya Hara: conceptual diagram, human being as information recipient

What if we asked the patient to “see” through the eyes of their hands, their feet, or another body part? How would their gut retell the story? What information would the shoulder reveal? What revelational images would surface by changing their perspective and accessing areas in their bodies that were dormant?