The architecture of well-being

What is architecture of well-being and how to use design thinking for a better now and better tomorrow.
6 min readNov 19, 2019
Image: Unsplash

In February of 2019, I was fortunate enough to present my thoughts on designing for well-being at the Paris Design Summit. The summit was a gathering of individuals and organizations looking at newer models of how to address the issues around sustainability and built environment. This narrative (as a continuity of my thoughts at the conference) is about the need of well-being, its definition and how design thinking can help us create a better tomorrow.

The challenges today

Globally, there has been a general decline in quality of life, health and happiness at individual and community level. Some nations are thriving and others are struggling to address basic needs of human living. The disparity has caused many think tanks to invest time and resources to understand and address the issues that plague the quality of life. Broadly, these issues can be seen from a lens of — Health (physical well-being), Happiness (feelings, engagement, growth etc.) and Harmony (community, environment).

Healthcare as a measure of well-being is being challenged globally from a perspective of quality, access and cost. It is failing communities and individuals at either one or all of the perspectives. For example, developed economies are struggling to contain the growing cost of healthcare. Under developed communities have a challenge around access.

Let’s look at housing as another indicator. Decent, affordable housing is fundamental to the health and well-being of people and to the smooth functioning of economies. Yet around the world, in developing and advanced economies alike, cities are struggling to meet that need.

The migration for better opportunities is creating additional pressure on availability and quality of living in various cities across the world. There are many other issues like knowledge gaps, social inequality, climate change, shifting social structures, food and water scarcity etc., which are creating a direct or in-direct impact on how we live today and how it will shape our tomorrow.

Key drivers of quality of life

What is well-being?

Well-being is generally defined as the state of being happy, healthy, and in harmony with life. It constitutes how we live as individuals, our relationship and interactions within the society and our responsibility towards the environment we operate within.

The broad needs

Between 2015–2019, as a Design Partner at RoundGlass, we tried to understand the complex and inter-connected challenges which influence the happiness of individuals and overall quality of life. There were longitudinal research conducted to understand what individuals seek as part of their understanding of well-being. The insights were amazing as they touched upon various inter-connected aspects of human life, including individual aspirations, collective empathy and hope for the future.

Insights into well-being needs

A working model

Various models were created to understand the elements of well-being and how they impact human lives. After extensive studies (ethnographic and literature) we came at an initial model. This model was grouped into three key categories; Happy, Healthy and Harmony.

HappyFinding fulfillment and joy at work, home and in the world. Connecting with others and growing as human beings.

HealthyMastery of the body and the behaviors and habits that affect it. Practices like, proper sleep, exercise and nutrition are key to being healthy.

Harmony Integrity of self, and amity with community and environment.

For us, this broad model acted as a guiding principle about understanding of well-being, creating tools & experiences to augment that and how we could measure an individual’s path of well-being.

Well-being model

Re-imaging the process

As a designer, I have always learnt to be curious and restless. Even though we had research, insights and models to understand well-being, there were always pertinent questions around well-being foundation, building blocks, scaffolding and their relationship to the environment and the context, essentially about — what is the architecture of well-being?

There were questions around how do we understand a complex domain like health & wellbeing and then progressively structure it to create meaningful outcomes. How can we learn from discipline like architecture to create a sustainable blueprint? How can multi-disciplinary teams comes together for a larger purpose? How can we design for large systems?

“ Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success ”

We took the fundamentals of design thinking and broke it down into three stage approach of (a) understanding the problem space, (b) ideation around big ideals and finally, (c) zoom during the build and test stage.

Architect the problem

It is not about problem solving. Yet

The first step towards approaching a complex domain such as wellbeing is to architect the problem space itself. Through various research methods, experimentation break down the problem into finer details. This would help us to understand the value chain:

  • Have a multi-disciplinary team from the offset. Look at the problem space from all dimensions.
  • Research in the wild. Don’t restrict yourself to a known path.
  • Graph various symptoms of the problem. This would lead to newer insights.
  • Understand the value chain. What problems are important!

Think with Big Ideal

Explore meaningful spaces in-between

Ideation is best when you have broad goals and mighty ideals. This is the stage essentially when you diverge like there is no tomorrow. Iterative ideation will help not only create better outcomes but also highlight unintended consequences and unearth micro-problem spaces:

  • Purpose is always at the core of thinking.
  • Think about on impact to many just not the few
  • This thinking needs to be aspirational, circular and inclusive.
  • Synthesize between the spaces. New outcomes will emerge.
  • Be responsible at the core.

Zoom Continuously

Big picture small details

When building meaningful outcomes always put individuals in larger context and see what comes out of it. In this approach the goal is to look at the larger picture at the same time when you are working on minute details — essentially zooming continuously:

  • Put individuals in larger context.
  • Remember scale and details are related.
  • Inter-operability becomes a core tenant.
  • Symbiotic relationships in proposed solutions are important.
  • And finally always prototype for uncertainty.

We at believe that we can build meaningful outcomes if we maintain a strategic design approach towards complex problem spaces like wellbeing. We have refined the above process to ask powerful questions, work through big ideals and ultimately design for meaningful outcomes. If you have a though or a question on designing for well-being, reach out to us and we will be happy to collaborate.


-- is a strategy + design firm using design to bring clarity to complex problems, frame new opportunities and build meaningful and impactful products.