EP.01 – Designing Spaces that are Human Centred


mentor | developer | building + interior designer

Skin in the game

As a client, it’s a powerful experience to co-create with a Designer who has skin the game so to speak.  Who has personal lived experience with the particular spaces they’re designing.  For example, a Designer who is a primary carer of their kids.  When they’re the ones doing the school runs, homework, laundry, cooking, cleaning etc.  A Designer who is also an every day user of the same spaces they’re designing, brings a whole other layer and level of  intimate knowledge to the table.  I’m saying that and realising it sounds like common sense, which yes it is.  And yet, in my experience in that early stage of the journey when you’re looking to connect with a Building Designer, Interior Designer or Architect, it tends to be something that either gets overlooked or there not being enough significance placed on the importance of it.

Throughout my 23 odd years of being a Building + Interior Designer, who I co-create with and the types of projects I’m drawn to … has evolved as a result of the life changing experiences that have shown up at my door and I’ve navigated through.  

It’s why the design of spaces within the health and wellness industry is close to my heart.  It’s why designing homes for young families, for single parents, for those who have gone through a significant life experience and have emerged on the other side with a whole  new outlook on life.

Professional + personal experiences being design filters

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my story, 12 years ago I navigated a 12mth journey through bowel cancer.  At the time I was married and we had an energetic 4mth old and 5 year old.  Through that time, my boys and I got to intimately know the in’s and out’s of the emergency ward, hospitals in general, my oncologist suite of offices, gastroenterologist offices, pathology suites, chemo wards….. I think you get the picture.

Here’s the thing…. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

That journey and that experience through bowel cancer cracked me wide open in so many ways.  As a Designer, the most powerful gift from that journey was being shown and being able to experience first hand how the spaces that we live in, that we move through,that we visit, that we work in ….. directly influence the human experiences we have.

Prior to that life experience, I was going about being a Building + Interior Designer, bringing all of my passion, enthusiasm and practical design experience as I was working with clients and builders.  At the risk of sounding egotistical, I thought that I was pretty good at what I was doing.  Receiving positive feedback from others, loving what I was doing and being able to help other people create their dream homes.  At that point I’d  been in the industry for many, many, many years, worked in different roles, seen and experienced different things.  In hydnsight, I recognise now that  for the most part, it was  following all the textbook, logical ways of designing.  And on the very rare occasions, I would have moments of bravery where I would  listen to my intuition to be able to bring that into my design.  

Obviously I can’t speak for everyone else as we all have our own journeys, that being said…. it’s inconceivable to me that anyone could go through something life changing like cancer without it having a significant impact on you.  Without you, hopefully god willing, emerging out the other end with a fire in your belly to grab life with both hands and do things differently.  Live life differently.

The impact for me personally was honestly in all areas of my life, but the most unexpected part was the impact and influence it had on me as a Designer.  I got to experience firsthand, as a soul, as a human being and as a patient, what it’s like to have your world turned upside down.  To be constantly thinking about your own mortality, constantly thinking about life and what it actually means to be alive to be living.   It made me sit up and suddenly I started noticing things around me that I’m embarrassed to admit i  hadn’t noticed before.  Things that were always there, I just never had the presence of mind to pay them any attention.

Imagine already feeling heightened with  all of those thoughts, emotions racing through your mind and body.  Living with a cloud of uncertainty in relation to my own mortality.  Stress levels  are through the roof.  Carrying and living with that consistently day in and day out.  Already having a deep fear of being in and around hospitals. Add then the layers on top of that of having to attend constant medical appointments with a range of different medical specialists that I didn’t even now existed.  Stressing out about where do I find a park.   Stressing out about the actual appointment.  Stressing out about walking into a new space.  

It made me see and experience things in a really different way. 

Design that’s intuitive and soulfully intentional

I’m a passionate advocate for spaces that are designed specifically for human experiences that are relevant to that particular space.   When I talk about human experiences, I’m talking about designing spaces that support us, that nurture us, that make us feel a particular way, that inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves, that connect us with ourselves.  That connect us with those that matter the most.   Again, obviously, it’s relative to the particular space, but the two go hand in hand.  The way that a space is designed, directly influences and impacts how we as humans experience that space.

This is a really big topic, and not one that we’re going to be able to unpack in one podcast episode.  My intention is to plant a seed and to start a conversation that I will and we will continue to have over the coming episodes. 

A conversation where we can unpack the concept of how our environments and our spaces impact how we feel, how we respond, and how we move through our day to day lives.   

Let that land for a moment.   It’s really powerful.  It’s really powerful to be in a space, an environment or home that’s been designed with intuition and soulful intentionality.  Because they are the spaces that are going to support you in responding in a certain way.  Interacting with others in a certain way.  Showing up for and living life in a certain way.

Imagine what that would be like, what that would feel like. 

Our spaces impact how we feel, repond + move through day to day life.

Being a Designer, experiencing what i did, and now having the precious gift of being able to wear both hats (the hat of a Designer and the hat of a patient or the hat of a human being and a soul) that has actually experienced and moved through particular medical environments and spaces.  I really want to emphasize this, It’s more than the health, well being and medical spaces….. It also, and I will speak to this in future episodes, that experience also had such a profound impact on my home, and how I view, experience and now design homes.  Again, that’s a whole other story for a future episode.  Let’s stick with the health, wellbeing, medical side of things for the moment and speak specifically about how design can impact how we feel, respond and move through day to day life. 

Picking up on the thread that I’d started earlier, so having been diagnosed with, experiencing and journeying through a significant health challenge, showing up for all the different appointments.  Walking into completely new spaces already feeling anxious.   My senses were heightened before I had even left me home.  Feeling super anxious.  So then in my car, I’m fighting traffic. I’m stressed about the appointment that I’m about to have.  I’m stressed about what news I’m going to receive.  I’m stressed whether I’m going to arrive there on time because of traffic.  Every thing in me is heightened.  I’m stressed about parking.  I’m stressed about finding a car park close enough, navigating the pram and boys and if i can’t get a carpark close enough will I need to walk?   How do I get there?   Walking up to the particular building and trying to figure out where the hell is the entrance?   Because it’s not obvious, is it that door is at this door?   Where am I going in, there are signs everywhere do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. 

I’m just like, ah, this is even more information coming at me as I’m walking in to the space.  Eventually I figure out where I’m walking in.  I walk into the space.   And as I walk in, I’m hit by the 1001 things going on within the space.  

It has a distinct smell.  It has particular lighting, which doesn’t put me at ease at all.  In fact it’s the opposite, it makes me feel more on edge.  Makes my senses even more heightened than what they already were.  Navigating my way to figuring out okay, what do I do now, where I now need to go to reception so that I can check in.  Where’s the waiting room? Where do I sit?  I don’t want to talk to people.  I don’t want to sit too close to people.  I want to have a view, I don’t want to be sitting here in a waiting room looking at a TV.  I want to be distracted, I don’t want to be thinking about what’s about to come. I don’t want to be reminded of time.  I don’t want to be thinking about how long have I been sitting in this waiting room for who has come and gone before and after me.  I don’t want to be thinking about and seeing any of that stuff. 

These are all the things that are going on that I’m experiencing, that I’m feeling.  I’m responding to the different things in the space.  I’m responding to the noise from the floor from people walking along the flooring, because it’s got an echo to it.  I’m responding to the brightness of the lighting and the clinical feeling of the lighting, which just puts me on edge.  I’m responding to the chair that I’m sitting in.  It’s making me feel a particular way…..  I’m either able to take a breath and sit back and relax or I’m feeling like I’m literally on the edge of my seat and it’s so uncomfortable.   And all I want to do is get the hell out of there.  I’m responding and feeling a particular way because I can hear the receptionists.  I can hear the conversations that they’re having.  All of this stuff is happening.  It’s the noise of the TV that’s going in the reception area.  It’s how visually busy the space is.   how visually busy the waiting room is.  It’s how close the person is sitting next to me.  It’s whether the layout makes sense and things are located where you’d logically anticipate them to be.  

It’s all of this stuff.  It’s all having a significant impact on how I’m feeling and how I’m in turn responding.  So when I get called by the specialist consultant and I walk into that room and they’re then sitting down wanting to give me medical information and advice …… how much of that information I actually absorb has already been pre-determined, based on all of those different things that I’ve just seen, felt and responded to. 

What does it feel like to be in a space that makes you feel calm + expanded?

My oncologist, during the 10 years I was seeing him, purchased a victorian era terrace home and engaged an architectural team to convert it into his practice.  On reflection, it’s funny that we never had conversations about it.  Location wise it was opposite the hospital that I’d come to know and experience all too well.  So for my first appointment in his new practice I was familiar with the general  location, with parking, traffic etc.  I knew that the street is filled with gorgeous victorian era terrace homes that over the years have been purchased and converted by medical professionals.  Having parked and walking along the street in a daze drinking in the gloriousness of the victorian era terraces I was walking past, whilst at the same time keeping an eye on house numbers to know where I was actually going.  Found where I needed to be, at the front door, hand on the door knob, pushed the door open…. There was weight to the door, it sounds odd to share, but there was a sense of safety from that, that it was solid and strong.  The door knob was patterned which as a tactile experience was a surprise and brought my focus to that moment.  I didn’t need to buzz to be allowed in and there wasn’t 1001 instructional  signs at the front door…. That made me feel like I was in control, that I had agency.  As I opened the door, stepped inside, paused to reorient myself, i realised i was standing in a typical victorian era hallway.  The lighting soft with a warm hue, the doors off the hallway were a dark grounding solid colour where as the walls were a warm, softer, neutral colour.  Warm, lighter coloured floor boards, with a patterned runner down the centre that lead to a glimpse of reception at the end of the hallway.  I immediately felt at ease and calm, my breathing instantly shifted from being shallow to deep.  Id never been there before and yet, it felt so familiar and safe to me.  There was a general buzz of activity in the air, that rather than feeling noisy and overwhelming, felt balanced, like it belonged.  It took the energetic and bubbly practice manager, who was wizzing from out of one room into another at the end of the hallway, to notice me and ask if i was ok, for me to realise that I hadn’t moved.  That i was still standing at the beginning of the hallway in complete stillness.  For no other reason other than I wanted to drink it all in.  It was so unexpected, it was so different to all the other medical spaces that I had experienced, it caught me of guard (in a good way).

Walking to the end of the hallway, checking in at reception, there was a very clear visual to the waiting room which had a floor to ceiling glass wall that overlooked a landscaped carparking area and had views to the surrounding properties.  Light was flooding in, you felt like you were outdoors not sitting in an oncologists waiting room.  With that view and the connection to the outdoors, to the outside world…. Time melted away.  There was a distant sense of other people sharing the same space, but I also felt a sense of privacy, of having my own space.  When I was called for my appointment, I was so ridiculously relaxed, calm and grounded.  

I was seeing the same staff, my same oncologist, it was the same regular visit.  I walked in with the same usual apprehension, anxiety, shallow breathing, that feeling of I sooo don’t want to be here.  AND that all shifted the moment I entered the space.  As a patient and visitor of that space, what a potent gift to receive. 

You can have the most visually pretty, aesthetically pleasing…

and functional space around, but if your space isn’t grounded in human experience, if  it doesn’t have consideration for the people using it and how they’re going to feel, respond and in turn move through their day, their  life, then, what’s the point?  What’s the point?   

We experience, interact with and move through spaces every day.  For the most part, hopefully it’s with ease and flow without anything that is overly jarring or triggering to you.  Maybe it’s not something that you notice or have an awareness of.  If that’s true, my invitation to you is that the next time you are in a new space, to slow down, take a breath, let your eyes wonder.  What do you see, how do you feel, how is your body responding to the space, what can you smell, whats the vibe of the space?  does it feel inviting?  Do you want to linger? Or do you want to get the hell out of there? 

Maybe the spaces that you have interacted with and experienced today, did in fact have an impact on you, they did in fact influence you…. Because it’s the end of the day and you’re feeling wired or emotionally and mentally exhausted for no logical reason. 

So I’m curious what spaces were you in today? 

What were you doing in those spaces today?

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Hi, I'm Emily

Intuitive Creative, Reflective, Deep Thinker, VICTORIAN ERA FANATIC, Self Development Devotee, Heart Driven Solo Mum

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