Family by Family

We want to see all families thrive not just survive

Biologically informed design

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One of my favourite things about being a designer in the social space is the diversity of subject areas I’ve had the chance to deep dive into. I’ve spent time uncovering how cities work best for people, how we can enable great living in later life and, most recently, how families can make change happen for themselves.

co-design with sharing family kids

One of the best bits about diving into such diverse content is the range of new ideas and concepts that I’ve had the chance to discover. Recently, the Family by Family team spent a day learning from Dr. Bruce Perry who is one of the world’s leading experts on childhood trauma and brain development. I expected to learn heaps of stuff that could help me design more powerful interactions for families where trauma is a factor, and I did, but I also discovered concepts that I suspect may reach even further…

In describing how brains grow, Bruce talked about the need for relational connection and painted a picture of the smaller multi-family, multi-generational groups of centuries ago when it really did take a community to raise a child. His essential message was that brains need love to grow. What fascinated me was that this wasn’t a hypothesis, or longing for bygone days but rather his work is biologically informed. He’s proven that what the human brain and even the human body needs is relational connection and he’s using that perspective of seeing the complexity of what’s really going to point to potential solutions in the childhood trauma space.

Listening to him talk about the changing modern world, and how the human body cannot keep up, I couldn’t help but think about all the projects I’ve worked on. So often you discover an idea, a solution, something you’ve spent months crafting, only to hear that people love it because it feels like something from the good old day; from creating neighbourhood sharing initiatives, to positive interactions between people and spaces, through imagining more “real” relationships between old people and carers, to fostering empathic kids and enabling families to show new ways of doing family, most if not all the things I’ve worked on creating probably happened naturally 2000 years ago.

It seems as though the world most of us now live in doesn’t fully match our biological needs, though it’s clearly amazing in so many ways. I’m really not too sure yet what all of this means, if anything at all, but I’m super curious to see where the idea goes. It’s as though there’s a new question out there. Could intentionally ‘biologically informed design’ create an even better world for people to live in?
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