Mindfulness: How to Become a Better Designer

October 4, 2022 at 4:58 PM

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present. My first introduction to this practice was through an ASU class called “Designing Life,” taught by Dr. Heywood (P.h.D. Clinical psychology). Since then, I’ve implemented mindfulness throughout my daily routine to recenter my headspace. It is beneficial beyond my lifestyle, though. It has also influenced how I approach my work, especially when taking on multiple projects. Mindfulness has guided my design thinking into a more thoughtful and creative approach.


Two meditation techniques to help start mindfulness practice: 

1. Body Scan 

Meditation can reduce physical tension in your body that you may not have noticed. Although the mind and body may seem like two separate entities, they’re actually intertwined. Whatever happens to one will affect the other. Body scanning can help heal physical nicks, strains, and tensions. The way to do this is to focus on how you feel from head to toe, not judging the sensations you may be feeling. Instead, you should breathe into those sensations. The purpose of this meditation is to tune into your body and reconnect your mind to your physical self.

I like to use this method when I feel fatigued in my physical self, especially when I’m sitting at a desk for long periods. Although it may sound contradictory to focus on strained sensations, it allows me to notice where exactly I feel them, and eventually, I can relax those parts of my body. By doing this, I’m recharging my body and boosting my productivity.

2. Thich Nhat Hanh 

This meditation is focused on the breath, noticing how it feels when you inhale and exhale. Is it in the chest or stomach? Does it feel light or heavy? When your mind starts to wander, focus on your breath. It's okay to notice the sounds surrounding you; that's how you know you're perfectly in the moment. Breathing along with this poem may even nourish your moment of silence:

“In, out 

Deep, slow

Calm, ease

Smile, release

Present moment, wonderful moment.”

While in this meditation, I’m calming my mind from distractions that may cloud my design thinking. When I feel a sense of peace, I’m able to let my imagination run wild and take my ideas in several new directions.

Why mindful design is useful in my toolkit

Nowadays, with the rise of technology, design is impressionable to a larger audience. It’s the designer’s responsibility to understand who the audience is and in what capacity the work has to speak. Mindful design can find intentional solutions in a human-centered approach.

Incorporating this practice into my design toolkit has helped me face challenges head-on by finding ways to navigate my design thinking. Design thinking is never linear; it may take different directions to reach the end goal, even if it’s not coming from the initial idea.

Adopting a beginner’s mindset:

Looking at potential solutions from a beginner’s perspective can open up creative conversations and ideas. Maintaining curiosity will bring new and exciting experiences that can influence your design direction.

Look at how exciting something new is for a child; they’re always asking questions to understand an idea better.

When the ego is involved, you’re stuck in a specific mindset - unwilling to expand your knowledge and learn from a new perspective.

Being in a place of non-resistance:

When we’re resisting, we aren’t allowing new ideas to inspire us potentially. We tend to focus on problems more when we’re resisting. When you let go of why something’s not working, you can find yourself coming up with solutions you may never have thought about before. Resistance can even weaken your creativity, and we definitely don’t want that to happen!

Intentional design: 

As a designer, I think it can be easy for us to forget who we’re designing for. Intentional design is crucial to show your understanding of how someone interacts with your work and if knowing that the intent was perceived correctly. When practicing intentional design, I feel more fulfilled when the audience understands what I’m visually communicating.

We must build a positive relationship between ourselves, the client, and the audience. Staying transparent is the best approach to avoid confusion and to be able to gain information that can inspire your ideation process.

Having a direct conversation:

Exchanging conversation opens up many opportunities for a design solution. Once I understand what my client is looking for, it sort of feels like a puzzle I’m solving—figuring out what pieces (the client’s needs) I’ve already put together, then finding the pieces that fit (my design thinking).


Meditating can be done in several ways. It’s not exclusive to sitting in silence and breathing. Some may express meditating by listening to music, going outside for a bike ride, or simply having a conversation with a good friend. When designing, it’s easy to get caught up in your work and burn yourself out. It’s all about taking time for yourself to get R&R and maintain a creative flow. Extinguishing negative thoughts will open doors to new ideas and opportunities.

Expanding empathy: 

As designers, we're always working based on the audience's needs. It becomes tricky if I'm unfamiliar or not paying attention to the audience. Successful design comes from work that is data and research-driven. It shows I've put critical thinking and analysis into the audience when I have sufficient information to back up what I'm visually communicating.

My biggest takeaways

When our heads are blocked and overwhelmed, we cannot design what’s best for the client. We lose our creativity to see all the potential solutions. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over as “fight-or-flight” or “freeze.” When this happens, our voice of judgment (VOJ) is alerted. This misdirects us with negative thoughts and ideas about ourselves and/or our work because of the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls our emotions. It’s how we process fearful and threatening stimuli. When we’re overwhelmed, it falsely activates, and we lose awareness. It’s easy for us to misjudge a situation. This is where meditation will be most beneficial, to relieve your nervous system from being in a high-stress state.

I find it impossible to be productive when my VOJ creeps up on me. I start to undergo imposter syndrome and lose sight of the overall goal of my design thinking. Incorporating mindfulness throughout my day-to-day has aided me in shutting off that voice and genuinely seeing the positive work I’m doing.

Practicing mindfulness has been a journey, but I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I’ve become a better designer because of it. I’m more patient, imaginative and curious. I hope to inspire other designers to do the same, starting their journey.

Written by

Jennifer Dam


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