John Ehrenfeld. (2019) Flourishing: designing a brave new world,” She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 5(2).


To put Planet Earth on a sustainable trajectory, we need a new normative vision to guide the design of institutions and artifacts. Sustainability has failed. Instead, the positive image of flourishing has the power to reverse the course of environmental and social deterioration. Flourishing represents the realization of living creatures’ biological—and for humans, existential—potential. The absence of flourishing can be explained by recent studies of the brain by Iain McGilchrist. His divided brain model explains the evolution of our “modern” culture, dominated by abstract science (left brain) and manipulative control, compared to cultures characterized by interconnectedness and empathetic care (right brain). Flourishing is possible only when the right brain hemisphere is the master, but balanced with the left. The ultimate goal of every designer should be to foster flourishing. But as an emergent property, it cannot be obtained directly by technological or institutional design. For humans, flourishing requires 1) restoring the supremacy of the right brain through direct practices, for example, mindfulness training, and 2) re-designing institutions and artifacts to enhance presencing: the perception of being connected to the contextually rich surrounding world. Design-for-flourishing must therefore pay attention to the larger social and environmental systems in which people live out their lives.


Flourishing Brain Design Sustainability Emergence