Design ala Pink

According to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, “Design is a classic whole-minded aptitude” and “… as more people develop a design sensibility, we’ll increasingly be able to deploy design for it’s ultimate purpose: changing the world.”

Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind heralds a whole new day, when the right brain skills and traits join the traditional dominion of the right brain perspective to produce a truly integrated psyche, and a healthier more balanced future. Moreover, he says this shift is imminent for a number of perfectly logical reasons.

Design is the first of six right brain skill or ‘senses’ Pink profiles in his book as important to our emerging collective future, and he seems to look at the design mind-set as a kind of super-aptitude that encompasses all the others in interesting ways. 

"Design is a classic whole-minded aptitude", Pink asserts, and "… as more people develop a design sensibility, we’ll increasingly be able to deploy design for it’s ultimate purpose: changing the world."

One of the justifications for Pink’s assertion is the inter-disciplinary skills that are essential to good design. The ability to think ‘out of the box’ and see the ‘big picture’, the ability to put yourself in other’s shoes, create meaning, and be a little whimsical that are the essence of the other right brain skills he mentions are all necessary prerequisites to the designer’s art. If you add beauty, the aesthetic aspect of design, you have an extraordinarily valuable skill that has uses far beyond the popular idea of design as decoration.

Aesthetics matter. This is becoming more and more clear. But Pink is exploring just how much they matter in a number of important settings. He quotes furniture designer Anna Castelli Ferrieri "It’s not true that what is useful is beautiful. It is what is beautiful that is useful. Beauty can improve people’s way of life and thinking", and goes on to give statistics and examples of the ways in which attention to beauty and good design can help patients get better faster, improve student test scores in public schools, change the atmosphere of fear and despair in public housing, decrease environmental pollution and effect national elections.

"To be a designer is to be an agent of change", indeed.


  1. We used Dan Pink’s book as pre-reading for a creative leadership series recently and it was very helpful for a group that is very new to these ideas.

    The idea that design will save the world is very true – it renews a sense of respect for ourselves, with others and with the space we share together. As John Ruskin says of buildings; We want them to shelter us – and we want them to speak to us.” It is this longing to have a conversation with our environment about whatever we find important that renews our sense that place matters and we need to find our way home. By home I am thinking of a geographical place but also a space where we are more consistently available to the deeper truths of our lives.

    Recently we worked with a technical group who described themselves as ‘left brainers’ in the context of Pink’s book, and asked them to think about where home was for them – and sing it. Many were in tears – an awakening perhaps to how far from home many of us are now.

    Michael Jones

  2. Thank you Michael!
    Your work is so inspirational, and I love how you open up the idea of ‘home’ in your comment …

    It’s clear from your example that ‘home’ has a meaning beyond the left brain logic of bricks and mortar, and I can’t help but wonder if the longing for ‘home’ that your example speaks to extends to the lack of relationship many people feel with the natural world these days, as it is home to all of us in such a fundamental way.

  3. Thanks Amy
    Yes I also wonder if this absence from home speaks to our separation from nature. Recently, in a community dialogue we included a question about ‘home’ – about where home was for them and how they could find their way their way there? We wanted to help municipal and culture leaders shift their focus of perception from bricks, mortar, roads and sewers to also valuing their common roots branches, seeds and soil. In their responses. It was interesting how they attributed their ‘busyness’ to this sense of separation from home.
    With some prompting through music, silent reflection, a quiet walk in nature, a story or a poem, each could call up from memory a place in nature that represented a childhood memory of home for them. It was often described as a place of profound beauty where they experienced a sense of belonging and feeling connected to something larger than themselves, something that claimed them and to which they felt beholden at the same time. Perhaps we carry this memory of home within us as an aesthetic sense that just needs to be remembered and reawakened. And perhaps it is the sadness we feel about its loss and that we cannot go back that causes us to forget. But if we realize that we hold this memory of home as a place in out heart and the imagination that we can grow out from, a place as real now as it was then, then we can be at home with ourselves and with the natural world in a new way.

Leave a Reply