Project Love Kick Off

minutes read
February 13, 2024

Last month a group of inspirational designers, writers and thinkers came together in the grand setting of the Royal Society of Arts in London to launch Project Love, a collaborative program to explore and design new artefacts and rituals of love.

Love is all around, love is in the air, love is all you need. It’s the major topic of our music, literature and poetry, on television and in films. Our great obsession is love, but our ability to love one another, to care and have compassion, for ourselves, those around us and those we don’t know, is, perhaps, at this moment, challenged.

We live in a society where it is easy to express toxic opinions and pitch ourselves against opposing tribes. Political, national and international disagreement and mistrust, issues and belief systems around race, gender, re-wilding or climate change fuel our conversations and sometimes enrage us. Social media poorly serves as a safe space for discussion and reasonable argument. Incomers to our neighbourhoods and communities are perceived as threats and we lock up those who arrive in our country who have escaped from the horrors of war and poverty.

Sometimes it feels that there is not much room for love in many of life’s interactions. As international conflict takes the stage again, this might be both a foolish and perfect time to try to cross the barriers between hate and love. But what can design and designers do?

As somebody who has a deep faith in the power of design to shape society and a strongly held belief that we all have a responsibility to ensure society is well designed and works for all, it is still a surprise for me to realise that, for many, design is an ephemeral activity, a luxury rather than a necessity. At a recent event introducing Project Love, the audience were baffled. To them, design is what creates fashion, and when you Google “designers” and get pages of fashion designers, clearly everyone else agrees with them.

It’s sobering to realise that design is still perceived in such a way. It’s hard for people to associate every app they use, handle they touch, car they drive, chair they sit on and service they use, as requiring design. But as my first boss designer Bill Moggridge said, “Few people think about it or are aware of it. But there is nothing made by human beings that does not involve a design decision somewhere”. Whether they are called designers or not, people shape the world through their decisions and as Nobel prize winning economist Herbert Simon also said “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”. Just about everyone is trying to change existing situations into preferred ones and therefore are taking part in an act of design. We all have a role.

So the first thing we had to do at the launch of Project Love was to overcome some preconceptions around design and why it would have any relevance to a topic as vital and essential to the human condition as “Love”.

There are objects that transcend the merely functional. In 18th century Wales, young men chose to whittle ornate wooden spoons whose complex forms bought symbolism and a powerful message when presented as an expression of their affection to a loved one. The Welsh Love Spoon is a powerful example of the power of object, broken when the partner dies or they are parted. A physical object can carry deep symbolism that we can immediately feel and recognise.

Our less tangible interactions can have tangible impacts on our lives too. Our mobile phones allow us to access behaviour changing forces beyond mere entertainment. From diet, fitness and financial management to mental health and, yes, love, applications work to help us be better. One of the first students I tutored at the Royal College of Art, Ali Maggioncalda, developed the AI driven app Lovewick to help relationships survive and thrive with tips and tools to stay in love.

So I hope we can agree that design, with a bias for action to find new solutions, can grapple with something as intangible as Love. Over the last two years my colleagues at the RCA have been exploring another intangible topic, Happiness, and how we can design transactions and interactions, especially in the age of AI, to enhance our happiness. We suspected that design couldn’t guarantee anyone happiness, but design might reduce the barriers to happiness and it could envision various scenarios and then prototype concepts and solutions that may enhance happiness.

So, when I met with US based Fetzer Institute earlier this year, their desire to create practical tools to help us detoxify society and take people on a journey to learn how to love each other more, was a design challenge I was keen to embrace. But love is a tricky thing to describe, and how would design help us “fuel the fire of love in daily interactions” as their project brief has asked us to do.

Working with the writer and psychotherapist Mark Vernon, we began to scope out the dimensions of love that we could potentially impact. From individual love to relationships between partners and wider society, we identified a set of themes across a scale of different aspects of love. To help us start to understand how we could create new artefacts and rituals, we developed this framework for designers to explore.


“To befriend another, first befriend yourself.”

As Aristotle noted, we must love ourselves before we love others. From understanding our identity, to the rites of passage, coming out and developing our own self-esteem to present ourselves, love starts with the self.


“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread.” Ursula Le Guin

Most people think of love as this. Love as the interplay between two people, how they meet, fall in love, sustain relationships and navigate the rituals love: courtship, engagement, marriage, family and falling out of love, divorce and death, all in the context of culture, religion and social norms. The way love is expressed is different in every part of the world: Citizens of Asia consider it crude to say “I love you” — expecting deeper, more gentle expressions of love. But romantic love is not so much the purpose of this project. We are looking for new interactions that help us love our neighbour, community, fellow humans who we know and those we don’t know. Fetzer have asked us to move away from a transactional life and to detoxify our interactions. They have asked us to fuel the fire of love in our everyday life.


“We have to learn to be human alongside all sorts of others, the ones whose company we don’t greatly like.”Rowan Williams

Over the last two years, my street has had opportunities to close the road to traffic and celebrate royal events. Having walked up this road for over 20 years and hardly known anyone who lives along it, our diverse community has been transformed into an interactive, friendly and supportive social network that has radically transformed my understanding of where I live.

Our desire to connect, or hide from our neighbours, our generosity to, or our rejection of newcomers — these represent the two sides of communities that can be positive forces for love or barriers to integration and harmony. Where Sikh communities feed all, from every creed, to the coming together with claps and pans for the NHS during lock down, we can explore how we might stimulate and remove the barriers to healthy, caring communities.

Us and Them

“No man is an Island, entire of itself” John Donne

Perhaps the most difficult challenge of love is to ask us to love those who are against us, oppose us or threaten us. From disagreements about Brexit, politics, immigration and many other issues, it is much easier to hate than to attempt to understand someone with a different opinion. Looking for remedies to the weaponisation of politics and poisonous social media is a tough challenge. But we must try to detoxify our social conversations and we can explore and experiment with aiding rational debate and understanding those we disagree with. As the tragically murdered member of the UK parliament Jo Cox said, “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”.

Planet and Nature

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Rachel Carson

From whale watching to owning a pet, bird watching and walking in a wood, our interactions with nature provide us with a fresh perspective, a chance to restore our souls and reflect on greater things. Our love for animals can enhance our wellbeing and our care for the environment can drive us to individual and political action. In a time of climate crisis, our care for our world in vital to many and provides purpose and meaning. We are part of nature and our love of our environments and all who live in them is a vital aspect of many lives.

One and All

“Flow down and down into ever widening rings of being.”Rumi

The Fetzer Institute is a multifaith foundation that is exploring how we can live a better version of our civic lives. Exploring the spirituality of all faiths and cultures, we want to understand the power of thought and rituals and how they bring us together to enhance our love for one another.

Designing and Fostering Love

In comprehending what we might mean by love in these ways, the cohort of designers who are working on this project are identifying each aspect as a source for creativity and launch pad for the artifacts, interactions, rituals and experiences that might stimulate love between us. The outcomes will be sharable tools, objects, templates, workshops, images, scenarios and stories, films and virtual environments that will allow people we don’t know and haven’t met to foster love in their workplaces, community groups, families and themselves.

A team of 16 designers are currently working on concepts across the whole scope of love. It’s an exciting, confusing, personal and intense journey that is already throwing up inspirational and wonderful ideas. I am happy that we can use the methods we have learnt and honed about how to be creative, to research and understand different contexts to our own, to take a human and planet centred approach, to consider and learn from every culture and religion and none and create something that people can use to stimulate better and more loving lives. It’s a huge and crazy challenge but one I believe designers are perfectly suited to. Design bridges art and science, society, economics, the environment, technology and ethics, and paints possible futures for us to understand the future consequences of our actions. This opportunity to facilitate a dialogue that will create artefacts, new interactions and rituals that just might help us love one another is the most exciting brief I can think of. I love it.

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.

let’s work together