London’s Conduit Club on the eve of Valentine’s Day 2024

minutes read
March 20, 2024

How can design contribute to creating a more loving world?

What does designing for love ask of designers; what does it ask of the wider culture?

These questions and more were pursued at a gathering of entrepreneurs, designers and thinkers at London’s Conduit Club on the eve of Valentine’s Day 2024 as part of Project Love. Professor Angie Hobbs, and designers Sharanya Ramesh and Judah Armani, contributed as an expert panel, chaired by Mark Vernon and welcomed by Clive Grinyer.

The evening opened with an imaginative journey back to ancient Athens in the company of Plato. The famous philosopher was challenging and clear: beauty fosters love and a person educated well is, therefore, someone for whom beauty and love are central. Conversely, a person or society with little or no concern for these things will likely become ugly and loveless, too.

Plato is not alone in this conviction, as the notion that there is a close relationship between love and beauty has seemed self-evident to others, across many times and places. The one word “kalon” in Greek captures the link as it means beauty, goodness and virtuousness.

But beauty has become a tricky subject in the modern world given a widespread assumption that beauty is solely a matter of personal taste and love a private matter; or worse, that beauty and love offer ways of objectifying and manipulating people, which of course can be so. That must be acknowledged and understood. But beauty still calls us and speaks to people; it invites the best and can be critiqued and discerned. In fact, any education in beauty and love will be one in which questioning and ethics are central: that is what a good education is.

Various principles can be guides.

Beauty is primarily an inner quality, so loving a person or designing for love are integrative tasks –reaching beyond appearances.

The great example of this, for Plato, is mathematics, offering a training in proportions and relationships, qualities and transformations that can then be detected and encouraged in other parts of life. Mathematics will not be everybody’s awakening! But that mathematics and music, as well as people and things, can be loved is a key indicator that we are dealing with objective facets of life, not optional extras. A stronger case for the need to design for love can hardly be made.

Other elements matter. A beautifully built environment – in terms of architecture, craftwork and art – provides a good context for fostering love and developing a sense of the fine. And again, this is not just about surface appearances because a truly lovely place can only arise from a depth of culture and moral concern with what is good. Indeed, people are remarkable good at detecting sham beauty and faux love.

The point is that love, beauty, goodness and virtuousness can form into a mutually enhancing virtuous spiral of personal and social growth. Which raises another important concern: accountability. Designs can be tested for their impact. People must be asked about how designs affect them.Designers, themselves, may want to formulate working principles and codes of conduct. The deeper the engagement with love, the more resonant the products of that engagement will be.

These links are also why love is naturally felt to be soulful; love invites the intuitive sense that there is a powerful relationship between the material and the spiritual, the inner and the outer, the complex and the simple. Such connections elucidate further how a life of love is enriching, being both challenging and satisfying.

These lively, lovely qualities revolve around a single stream of energy that flows through us, called love. A first stirring of love can lead to a wider awareness of love. By the same token, misunderstandings about love need clarifying, lest they lead to false goods, such as fame for fame’s sake or the blind pursuit of money; love is such an important dynamic to design for because of its expansive qualities can be twisted and perverted. And yet, love is always alive in the human soul; it is not an optional extra. The question is how it is channelled and where it leads. Designing for love should not, therefore, be an optional extra, either.

If education is crucial, so also is formation. A society that is formed for efficiency or profit, say, will likely become one in which beauty is harder to find. The lack of attention to love will make love seem more allusive, perhaps to the point of being doubted, as if it were an intangible quality that doesn’t really make a difference. Designers today might, therefore, find that they face substantial challenges if they seek to make a case for love as more than a superficial or sappy concern, or if they work in a setting driven by imperatives antithetical to, or simply bemused by a concern for love.

The good news is that paying attention to specific contexts, and researching what actually makes a difference to people in terms of feeling seen and cared for, will often surface changes and interventions that can go a very long way. Names, gestures, places, relationships. The human soul longs for love and intuitively knows its demands and merit. Designing for love is not only valuable, but is its own reward.


Report by Mark Vernon

Project Love is a collaboration between the Fetzer Institute, designer Clive Grinyer and writer and psychotherapist Mark Vernon till August of next year and we are building a web site to share our ideas, prototypes and final outputs. We will be running several events with both designers and writers, philosophers and thinkers on the topic of love during this time.

As a creative agency, we believe in the power of imagination and innovation. We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and strive to create work that is not only beautiful and effective, but also meaningful and impactful.

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