Finding Center, Together
v.1 | Introducing the Blumline Newsletter & Website
Hello, and welcome to the very first issue of the Blumline newsletter.
Each edition will be a bursting forth of the ways in which human-centered design anchors our process and practice. We hope that it fosters a brave, creative space of connection and collaboration as designers, artists, leaders, thinkers, healers, and feelers.
Blumline began with the intention to listen radically, observe humbly, and think liminally to build a smarter, kinder, wiser future. We focus on education, insights and strategy, as well as design and innovation, all through the lens of wellbeing.
Synthesizing the metaphor of a plumb line with our founder’s last name, Blumline asks us to find center—the heart and mind at the core of it all. Like our namesake, we are both a simple and intuitive tool through which leaders, visionaries, and organizations find alignment between their mission, goals, and output. We help folks to use the weight of intuition, strategy, ethnography, data, and communication to orient their work around this gravitational pull.
Last year, without much fanfare, we launched the Blumline website, of which we’re very proud, with the fantastic help of illustrator Andrew Holder, designers Shana Parkes and Gina Maria Wall, amazing development from SuperWorks, and the support of wonderful collaborators near and far. We feel that it highlights not only our work, but also the incredible work of our clients and community.
Like us, the site, is bold, warm, educational and curious. We invite you to have a look around, and let us know what you think. You can meet our team; read case studies, and learn more about ongoing projects in our journal.
Below you’ll find links of inspiration, and ways that we’re finding center in our work, our days, and our networks. You will also find a short practice for dropping back into center that you can do anytime, anywhere throughout your day. We’d love to know what keeps you centered, and aligned.
Yours in the name of discovery and community,
Being with death, rather than pushing it away, can actually bring us into greater alignment with our values living. In collaboration with a volunteer team of cross-disciplinary designers, clinicians, and academics, we crafted a collective self-discovery ritual aptly titled “Famous Last Words.” It is designed to prepare clinicians, patients and circles of kin for the dying process, particularly in the time of COVID-19. It comes from a simple, but profound inquiry: how might we support the dying, their families, and their loved ones; the medical system providing care; and communities in grieving?
The “Famous Last Words” toolkit and ritual, as well as artifacts and examples of our innovative brand strategy and journey maps, are now available in a wonderfully curated exposition of leading approaches in products and services for better health: Health Design Thinking, Second Edition by Ellen Lupton and Dr. Bon Ku. It is a practice-based guide to applying the principles of human-centered design to real-world health challenges and it is updated and expanded with post–COVID-19 innovations. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
Neri Oxman x Material Ecology
To think beyond concrete and walls, to allow the cityscape to blend with the forest and natural expanse, is to be called back into a sense of deep listening, awe, and centeredness.
As a designer and architect, nature shapes Neri Oxman’s innovative design. Her works are not only beautiful and revolutionary, they are also philosophical. She has developed new ways of thinking about materials, objects, buildings, and construction methods, but also new frameworks for interdisciplinary—and even interspecies—collaborations. She calls her pioneering approach “material ecology” and it envisions new possibilities for the future. In one project she and her team call Totems, melanin is embedded in glass and incorporated into building structures to mediate heat, light, and the outer environment. Neri says boldly: “We built a a biological skin in an architectural facade.”
Her work is being shown at SF MoMA through May 15, 2022. Learn More.
“To be out of place allows truth-telling that belonging does not. I practice being out of place to push the edges.”
— Reverend angel Kyodo williams
To speak of a center is to simultaneously speak of a periphery. Where there is a center, there is a margin—an edge. Sometimes the center needs to expand to recognize who and what sits outside of its bounds, or to collapse in on itself entirely in order to create something anew. Human-centered design, at its essence aims not only to find center—by finding the bounds—through the process of divergence and convergence, but evolve understanding through the natural cycles of inspiration and regeneration that insight provokes.
The Surrealists, like Françoise Sullivan pictured above, challenged the status quo, social norms, and political ideologies. Revolution was a cornerstone of their work, as they created spaces that countered conformism.
The liner notes of this 1976 record vow that, “every pitch is scientifically designed to affect the stomata, or breathing cells of your plants, opening them ever so slightly wider and allowing them to breathe ever so slightly freer and thus, grow ever so slightly better.” We’d argue that this work—made entirely on a Moog synthesizer—is as beneficial for people as it is for the house plants for whom it was designed. It makes for peppy and uplifting background music that’s been keeping us focused and attuned.
Feeling out of alignment might express as quickened or shallow breath. It might be a flushed face, or a frazzled mind. It might feel like a knot in your belly or a lump in your throat. Being out of alignment feels different for everyone, but often it is uncomfortable and leads to frenetic, unfocused thought.
This practice can be done anytime, anywhere, so that you can recenter and carry on with a clear head and heart. You can do it seated, standing, or even walking. Read, practice, repeat as you like.
Orient yourself to the space you’re in. Where are the windows? The doors? What is the temperature? Which colors surround you? What is the quality of light? Attune yourself to your internal space, too. Listen to the sound of your breath. Notice where your eyes are drawn.
Become aware of the place where your body meets the world around you—perhaps the ground under your feet, or the chair that supports you. Can you feel your whole body—here and now?
With attention in the very present now, can you afford yourself permission to drop into sensing your own steadiness and calm? Breathe into this permission and presence for several full rounds of breath. When you feel complete, gently open yourself back into your space and place—aware, alert, and centered.
Rhythm & Routine
“Everything is rhythm,” writes Bice Lazzari. And indeed we believe that a regular rhythm can help us to harness our attention and focus. In the yogic sciences, daily routine, dinacharya, offers one of the most powerful mechanisms for cultivating groundedness. Working in fields of rapid change and adaptation, we can apply similar techniques to our cycles of work, building in familiar and consistent points that ground us amidst ambiguity.
Which rhythms support your days and psyche? Is it a hydration schedule? A meditation practice? A daily Wordle puzzle?
Victor Papanek’s work and principles steer us back to center. He reminds us to seed positive change and create the kind of world we want to inhabit through conscious and meaningful design.
Follow us @theblumline to track how we’re staying centered and in alignment all month long.