Designing for Equity and Belonging


In this episode, presented by Delta Faucet Company, ThinkLab interviews designers Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet and Susie Wise on how to reimagine current design practices to be more inclusive and to redefine what makes good design. 

Accredited for: IDCEC, AIA | 0.5 CEU/0.5 LU  

After listening, you will be able to: 

1. Identify principles of designing for equity. 

2. Evaluate how current design practices can be reimagined to design with equity in mind. 

3. Define belonging, othering, and inclusion, and examine their importance. 

4. Assess how to design with belonging as the main goal for projects. 


Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet is vice president of Determined by Design, a firm which developed a framework of seven key principles for achieving design equity. She walks us through each of those principles and how they differ from the typical design process you might be used to.   

Susie Wise is an educator at Stanford’s and author of Design for Belonging. She describes how to consider belonging as the end point of a design — and how encouraging belonging is also a crucial part of helping your team members show up and contribute their best work. 

Quiz: Want CEU credit for listening? Click here to take the quiz, and earn your certificate of completion.  


How it works:   

Step 1: Listen to the episode.  

Step 2: Sign in at this link to take a short, 5-question quiz.  

* Scoring an 80% or above on the quiz will earn you 0.5 CEU/0.5 LU 

Step 3: Upon passing the quiz, receive your certificate of completion via email from CEU sponsor Delta Faucet Company. 

Connect with our expert guests on LinkedIn:  

Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet 

Susie Wise 

Special thanks to our CEU episode sponsor, Delta Faucet Company, for partnering with us to provide valuable insights on compelling topics for the design industry. 

Meredith: [00:00:00] Today’s episode is juicy, and we ask that you come into it with a mind wide open. Because we’re going to examine and question concepts through the lens of equity: things like trends, luxury, modern classics, and even the definition of “good design.” We’ll talk about the humility it takes to admit that you got it wrong, despite your very best intentions. And thus, we must adopt a spirit of experimentation. But these conversations are worth having, if we want to truly learn how to design for equity and belonging.

In part one, we’ll discuss equity in design and hear from a design firm that has “designing for equity” as their core company value. Then in part two, we’ll hear a fascinating framework for how to design for belonging that has roots in [00:01:00] K–12 education.

I’m your host, Meredith Campbell, research and content development at ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW Design Group. And this is The Learning Objective, the first podcast where you can receive CEU credit for listening.

I’m pleased to introduce Faye Adams of Delta Faucet Company, today’s episode sponsor, to walk you through the learning objectives.

Faye: After listening to today’s episode, you’ll be able to:

  1. Identify principles of designing for equity.
  2. Evaluate how current design practices can be reimagined to design with equity in mind.
  3. Define belonging, othering, and inclusion, and examine their importance.
  4. Assess how to design with belonging as the main goal for projects.

Meredith: You’ll hear from Faye again, later in the episode, with instructions on how you can obtain continuing education credit through IDCEC [00:02:00] or AIA for listening.

Sequoyah: My name is Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet, and I’m the vice president of Determined by Design. We are a full-service interior design firm, and we specialize in design equity. We work primarily in the affordable housing sector, and we are striving to bridge the gap between the aesthetics of market- and luxury-rate housing and affordable housing.

Meredith: Determined by Design has seven Design for Equity principles. They say that Design Equity™ requires:

  1. A community’s story and history to be told in every texture, finish, and material
  2. Diverse creative teams
  3. No differentiation between aesthetics [00:03:00] based on socioeconomic status
  4. Challenging biases in language that hinder elevating the standard
  5. Surpassing dignity as well as creating beauty, impact, and inspiration within every space designed
  6. Fighting for price transparency
  7. Representing the people through the thoughtful practice of interior design

So we wanted to know: How does that “Design for Equity” framework differ from a typical design process? While we won’t be covering all seven in depth, we asked Sequoyah to walk us through a few of these principles to understand how their process is different. Let’s start with number one: “A community’s story and history be told in every texture, finish, and material.”

Sequoyah: We really differ because we don’t start with a style. We don’t start [00:04:00] with, “Hey, what’s trending? Everything’s pistachio, because that’s, like, Pantone Color of the Year.” We’re very concept driven and we go through a process, and it’s something we have always to advocate for. And our development partners who’ve worked with us and who are “repeat offenders,” or repeat clients — though we don’t really use the term clients — they gravitate to our process because it produces a very different design.

And part of that process is that we start from a foundation of historic research. So, we start with understanding the site. We integrate essentially a land acknowledgement, so we understand the first keepers of the earth and the land: What’s the history of the land? Who were the original caretakers? And then, how was that land cultivated, and how was it colonized? And so, we [00:05:00] start from looking at that historic research.

We then do this neighborhood analysis, in which we pull the demographic data of a particular community and neighborhood. And so, you’ve got a neighborhood — that’s, like, an area on the site of the land that should have your focus — and then you sort of zoom in on the community: Who is this community? Where do they shop? What’s around?

And we do community walks, where we are looking at: What is the existing architectural vocabulary? What are the amenities, community amenities? If there’s any street art or parks, or anything — we just keep a level of curiosity happening in this research phase.

And we also really look for stories. Like, “Why is a park named this?” We have a project in Silver Springs, Maryland, understanding [00:06:00] how Silver Springs got its name, and it really had to do with the amount of mica that was in the streams. It created such reflectivity that it looked like it was liquid silver, just silver water. And that’s how it really got its name in this particular community.

So layering all of this sort of information, that becomes the basis of understanding. Before we design, we try to understand: Where are we designing, and who are we designing for?

We take all that research, and we create a concept phrase, which is very different from what you learn in design school with having a parti. And a concept phrase for us is a statement of intention. Sometimes it makes you a little uncomfortable. But sometimes it’s a prayer of hope. It’s, like, a love letter. It’s, like, a small sort of poem. And some of our concepts — We had one: [00:07:00] “humanistic hues of devotion.” That’s a concept for us. And so we have this concept statement, humanistic hues of devotion, and we tell the story of how we got there.

Once we have the concept statement, we sort of figure out, “How can we break this concept down into images?” Because design is a visual medium, and we create all of these collages, these visual collages, and we break down every word: What does “humanistic” look like? How do we interpret that as an image, and an image that can be applied to design in the language of design? And then how do you create that into a color story? And so we take this concept phrase, and that’s where we drive our design from — always coming to this concept phrase, these concept images that support this concept phrase.

And again, that phrase is an intention. It’s a hope [00:08:00] for a new community that we’re creating, because a lot of our work is new construction. So there’s the existing community that’s there. And a lot of our projects are supporting existing residents to have equitable housing and affordable housing so that they don’t get relocated.

Because then that sort of fractures this community and creates something else.

Meredith: As you heard, their process involves a lot of care and time on the front end, between researching the history of the land to the community walks and demographic studies, understanding what’s around the site, and ultimately, the development of a concept statement. This is all before Revit is ever even opened or visuals are ever explored.

How do you convince a client — or, as they call them, “development partners” — to give you the time to go through this work on the front end of the design process, so that you can deeply [00:09:00] understand the community context?  

Sequoyah: This is something that we struggle with a lot, and we’ve been told that our process is very rigid and we’re like, “Oh, OK. We’re OK with that.” And we really have to constantly educate our development partners and say: This is our process. You saw something, you heard something about us, you saw one of our projects. You saw that we won an award for this, that, and the other. And you’re like, “Oh yeah, we want to work with you.” And then you get in front of us. And we’re like, “So this is our process. And this is the time that we need, and we need all of this so that we can get to that end result that you desperately want.”

And it is constantly a challenge to say, “We don’t want to do non-meaningful work.” And our team, we always have to protect our team to make sure that they have the room to do that. Because that’s what gets them so excited about every [00:10:00] single project, because they can tell a different story.

So that is a constant struggle, to educate our development partners and have people understand the value of that, where it’s not HGTV — we can’t turn things around like a light switch on and off. We need the time to cultivate. If you want something good, it comes slowly.

Meredith: Let’s dig into another principle of design equity: “There is no differentiation between aesthetics based on socioeconomic status.”

Sequoyah: I guess let’s just start with, yes, there is a difference, and there has been a difference, currently and historically. Our goal is always to close that gap, blur those lines.

And again, we’re putting expensive things in affordable housing. And this idea of, like, “good design” is so problematic. One: Who’s determining what the standard for good design is? And then, what is the reference point? And is that reference point [00:11:00] culturally appropriate? And a lot of the time, it’s not, right? We think good design is function and beauty, right? That equals good design. But beauty isn’t quantifiable in a singular definition.

Beauty is completely objective. And because of that, there is a minimalist aesthetic that is very popular. And it comes from an architectural canon of purity of materiality. And I understand this from being a design student, I understand this from the aspect of being a practitioner. That same idea of purity of materiality and the modern minimalist canon was what was applied to early affordable housing developments, where the materiality, or any sort of decoration, everything is [00:12:00] simplified to the bare minimum.

For people who grew up in that environment, they relate that to poverty. They relate that to their socioeconomic standing. And so there is this idea of this “poverty aesthetic,” where certain design styles enforce that, and many designers don’t even know. Because again, who’s deciding what is good design? And if you don’t have that same background or upbringing, or if you’re not connecting that in terms of the practice and the effects of that type of design aesthetic on people, you wouldn’t connect the two.

We have a very layered approach to our design work. And I was with a team, and they were presenting a project. This is for affordable senior living, and we have draperies in the lobby. And they stopped us because they were like, “What is [00:13:00] this? We don’t have draperies. We just do mini blinds.” “OK, we want to be able to soften the experience.” And the conversation shifted.

It’s very hard to hear, though it’s great that sometimes our design team hears this. Because this is a lot of the time what we’re combating, where the conversation shifted: “It looks expensive. And we’re concerned, because there’s a lot of public funding that’s going into this project that we want to make sure that it doesn’t look so expensive.” And we’re all like, “I’m sorry, so you want it to look basic, inexpensive, unloved, designed without care, because you think that because it’s public money that these people should live in a lesser quality and [00:14:00] standard?”

Our team and some of our development partners are very, very actively engaged in this idea of “Do I want to live there? Would I want to live there? Would I want my sister to live there? Would I want my mother to live there? If it’s OK for me, then it’s OK for everyone else.” And that should be the baseline standard. There should never be “less than.”

But there is a language of a poverty aesthetic, and there is a push to provide less aesthetic integrity, fewer layers of comfort and softness and texture in projects that are not for the rich, I guess. It’s not for — what is the “middle class” anymore? It’s not for anyone who doesn’t need financial assistance.

Meredith: Not only does Sequoyah challenge us to question what good design is, she also looks at another popular term in the interior space (and certainly in the multifamily space): [00:15:00] luxury. In fact, Determined by Design has a saying: “Pro-people, anti-luxury.” Another principle of design equity is “challenging biases in language that hinder elevating the standard.”

Sequoyah: When we look at the basic definition of luxury, it’s about abundance, it’s about ease, and it’s about comfort, right? It’s about adding something that’s pleasurable and not necessary. When we’re talking about “pro-people” and “anti-luxury,” this is really coming from this idea of materials and objects. We’ve just trapped ourselves into luxury as a marketing tool to separate the haves and the have-nots. And we keep having the have-nots wanting to elevate to this idea of luxury.

But if we look at luxury in relationship to fashion, or this idea of luxury being something exclusive, then we wouldn’t be [00:16:00] applying that term everywhere. Nobody’s looking for a basic apartment. Nobody’s looking to live in a basic neighborhood. We fall for these trappings of luxury all the time, and a true luxury can’t be mass market.

And there’s a trend right now that I’ve been hearing where people are saying, “Oh, time is the new luxury.” And I chuckle at that, because time has always been a luxury for those who can afford it. And the idea that the “weekend” is a modern term — because if you were with means, you never worked.

So luxury, again, is very complicated. Say that we are, like, the anti-luxury firm, we don’t care. We don’t care to pull expensive things. We’re not, like, looking at whoever is the new luxury designer. We’re not inspired by any of that. We’re just not interested in the most expensive thing, because if luxury is about artisan craft, [00:17:00] or small batch, or one of a kind, then we’re already doing that in our work. And what we’re focused on is: Where is the basic? Where does the standard start? And how can we constantly be above that bar?

Meredith: At the beginning of this conversation, you’ll recall that Sequoyah mentioned that trends really have no place in their up-front design process. But she also challenges us to remember that we don’t all have the same definitions of good design, as in this example of a mid-century modern classic.

Sequoyah: There’s lots of stories that are engaged in this. And I guess one of my favorite things is about the mid-century canon: the incredible chair competition, where it’s like, “How do you produce an affordable chair?” I think the classic Eames chair is, what, at $350 now? It was a design competition to create a designer chair that could be mass-produced so that it could be in places for the masses. It was never intended to be [00:18:00] an iconic luxury item.

I will never forget, I was working with a woman who I was showing these chairs to, and she had such an adverse reaction to it. And I was so surprised. I was like, “Everybody loves the Eames chair. You know, everyone’s into it.” And she then said, “You know what they remind me of? When I was a child and I used to go visit my father in prison.” It struck me, and so then I did all this sort of research, because I was like, “Wow, this is totally fascinating.” And so these iconic mid-century modern pieces, these were intended to be institutional chairs. And somehow, they had been marketed and transformed into luxury items.

And the irony of that is it goes back to this idea of a poverty aesthetic. We all have these stories, and we all walk this earth with these histories, and we’ve registered all this knowledge, visual information that we keep in our [00:19:00] minds, that we pinpoint what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable. And the disconnect of this molded plastic chair having been a chair that was used in a penitentiary, that an adult person had such an adverse reaction to, because that is their memory of that chair. They don’t see it as this iconic thing. They don’t care where it came from. And I think our team really goes to that level of depth. We want to be constantly content rich and not necessarily on trend.

Meredith: We wanted to know what are the biggest gaps our industry has to overcome to think about design through an equity lens. Her advice? First, start with changes in design education, and second, read fewer design books and more history books.

Sequoyah: Education is the foundation of all of it. And how we change design [00:20:00] is through a white, Western European canon. Because most institutions have not begun to really decolonize their curricula, to value the history of crafts, the history of built space, and the history of ornamentation that is so very human.

For designers to continue to push forward, I think you have to, you have to stop reading about design, actually. You have to really start to explore other cultures in a way to seek better understanding. We have to ask more questions. I’m reading a book right now that is about the transgender, Black experience — so, history. It’s an anthropological book, and that is so much more fascinating to me than any book on decoration. But I think it’s just, really, more [00:21:00] designers have to think beyond themselves and be interested.


Susie: Hi, my name’s Susie Wise. I’m a designer and educator, and I have a new book called Design for Belonging.

Meredith: Susie’s background has deep roots in education. She’s worked in children’s educational game design, in interactive educational technologies at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and then to Stanford University, where she did her doctoral work in learning sciences and went on to work at the

Susie: The is an interdisciplinary institute at Stanford University. It was started with the recognition that the kind of thinking that designers do is really powerful. And that it’s relevant not just for product design or engineering design, but also ways of thinking with deep empathy, with paying attention, noticing what’s happening in environments. And then [00:22:00] also, a bias towards prototyping and saying, “Gosh, if I have an idea, can it work? Does it work for real people? Does it help solve for some of their needs in a given context?” That’s the thinking part of design thinking.

And so the was created to help spread that way of thinking across disciplines at Stanford and then in the world more broadly.

Meredith: When Susie was a graduate student, she founded the K12 Lab, which was an organization that thought about how design thinking could work in learning environments, both for educators and for students.

Susie: Part of that work then became this question of “How can we work towards greater equity in schools?” And the framing of belonging that I share in this book, Design for Belonging, is really to focus on belonging as the feeling that matters.

Meredith: In her book, Design for Belonging, Susie shares the [00:23:00] framework and tool kit that she’s created for communities, organizations, and teams to build greater belonging and reduce “othering.” You’ve probably heard the word “belonging” plenty of times, but to really understand belonging, Susie introduces a new word that you may not have heard in this context before: “othering.”

Susie: “Othering” is belonging as a framework, and I’ll reference John Powell and Stephen Menendian, who wrote the initial piece that I read that kind of brought me into that thinking. They now lead an organization at the University of California, Berkeley called the Othering & Belonging Institute, and I invite your listeners to check out their work and materials.

Othering and belonging helps us notice when people are being included and when they’re not. The extreme forms of othering we can imagine are the kinds of things that lead to the worst of [00:24:00] racism and segregation and white supremacy culture. Those are extreme forms of othering, but there are also subtler forms that creep in all around our institutions.

Belonging is knowing that you’re a part of something, that who you are is being welcomed. And not just welcomed as in being seen, but truly welcomed in to have a voice and participate and help shape. Whether that’s your school, that’s your workplace, that’s your town, whatever kind of unit of analysis we might be thinking of, belonging means that you can show up and be your full self.

As John Powell says, it also means that you have a voice and can make demands on the structures of the culture that you’re a part of. So belonging is a powerful human need. It’s back in [00:25:00] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There’s some debate: Is it really the base of the pyramid after the most basic safety needs?

We know from learning research and the learning sciences that belonging is part of getting to show up as a learner. Belonging is the thing that helps you show up and contribute your whole self.

Meredith: We hear diversity, equity, and inclusion (or DE&I) very often within organizations these days, but we wanted to know: How do belonging and inclusion fit in? Are they the same thing? You may have heard it said that diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion means being asked to dance, and belonging means being asked for input into the playlist for the dance music and feeling free to ask anyone you want to dance with you. 

Susie: Part of why I wrote the book Design for Belonging was to get us to focus on [00:26:00] belonging as the feeling that is the real outcome of our work on inclusion. So, inclusion is excellent. But we want to actually understand if the environments that we’ve built for inclusion, have they actually gone far enough so that people are experiencing belonging? Because that’s the feeling that we need to get to.

Meredith: If you lead a team or you’re trying to help your clients understand why belonging matters, you’ll want to listen closely to this part.

Susie: As a team leader, you need to care about belonging because that’s what helps your team members show up and fully contribute.

If you’re building a diverse and inclusive team, belonging is the thing that helps everybody show up and give more of themselves to that team, to share their perhaps multiple identities. We all have multiple identities. That’s not just the new people that have [00:27:00] been included — we all have multiple identities. So, it actually helps everyone on your team to get to be their whole self, to show up and contribute, to probably do their best work.

Meredith: And there’s data that points to the power of leveraging belonging: A study using Cloverpop’s decision-making database analyzed over 200 teams and found that those who follow an inclusive process make decisions two times faster with half of the meetings.

Susie: A huge and important part is to also be able to express what their needs are. We’re in such an interesting moment in, kind of, the Great Resignation. I’ve also heard it referred to as the Great Reflection.

So, if teams and workplaces are changing the way people are working together and who’s on the team, and how people are showing up, in person, not in person — When are you in person? When are you not in person? All of these variables about how we come together [00:28:00] are still about shaping the experience of real humans, and the basic human need to be a part of a group is to have that feeling of belonging.

Meredith: Susie works with communities, organizations, and teams all over the country. And she says, “Don’t let the hardest challenges paralyze you.” We wanted to know what are people often the most paralyzed or challenged with when they begin this process.

Susie: Part of how I came to do the book was actually because I found that people were stuck in a kind of technical approach to thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the kind of the bigness of those words.

And those are important things. You can’t let go of equity as a goal. And yet, we have to remember that’s a human endeavor, not a technical endeavor. If you’re going down a rabbit hole of numbers and [00:29:00] processes, you may be sucking the life out of the work that you’re actually trying to do. And so the hard part, in some ways, is to do the relational work, but it’s also the human part. And the relational work involves both.

Some of my colleagues at the National Equity Project refer to it as the mirror and the window. So, we all have the work of self-reflection as designers, as leaders, as team members, the self-reflection about how we’re showing up and how we’re interacting. And then the window work is to look at the situation that we’re in, the system that we’re in, how our team, our organization, is functioning. We have to look at that and see what kinds of shifts we can make. And then that bravery, that “Don’t let the hardest things be the thing that stopped you,” is to say, “OK, I don’t actually know the answer, but I can try some things, [00:30:00] some small things.” Things that are safe to fail so that you’re not injuring someone, or that you’re prepared to repair if harm is done. And you may be addressing some historic harms, too, as you open up, both through that self-reflection and looking at the system that you’re a part of. That’s the work of the bravery, is to take the small steps.

And so part of my orientation coming out of design is that prototyping mindset that says: Can we try something small and see? For instance, can we try a new role in this meeting next week and see if that helps us have a different kind of conversation? Can we try a new meeting that brings together a different group of people to address the challenge and see what that does?

It may be that the newness of trying something new helps us, and it may be that the signaling that we are a group that tries new [00:31:00] things to address hard challenges is really powerful and helps a different set of people to step up and have their voices heard.

Meredith: And this framework that Susie has created could be incredibly powerful for designers to use as they’re going through a project process with their clients. (Because space is never just about space, right?) There are three parts to this framework: feeling, seeing, and shaping belonging.

Susie: So, feeling is that human piece that we’ve talked about a little bit, of remembering that it’s that felt feeling of belonging that is our ultimate goal. But to get there, first comes the “seeing” and the “shaping” belonging.  

In “seeing” belonging, I’m talking about a range of moments, and we can think about those in terms of a few different things. I invite any designer to think about, in the context where you’re designing, what are the [00:32:00] moments that really matter to the community that you’re working with?

Meredith: Moments that matter are examples of “seeing” belonging. Susie gives us some examples of how you can identify the moments that matter. And then, for these moments that matter, there are levers you can pull to shape belonging, and a powerful lever that architects and designers can really influence: space.

Susie: Experiment, and talk with folks: What are the moments that matter for them to feel belonging in their community, and what are some moments that maybe aren’t really working, and how might design support new opportunities there?

So, there are moments like the invitation and the entering. I love thinking about the entering in terms of space design, of course, because what is the way that we enter? That’s not just the physical entrance, right? That’s an emotional piece. We get a lot of cues at [00:33:00] those transitions about whether we belong or not. So, how can space play a role in that entryway of supporting the stories of the range of folks that belong in this organization or this community who might be coming into that space?

I saw a recent cool example about a library. This library had an entryway, one, it was spacious and beautiful, but it was filled with stories of different members of the community, sharing their favorite books. And there are old people and young people, there are people of every kind of race and culture that were part of that community. And you really had that sense of “Wow, I could read anything here.” And it’s not just about what I can read. It’s about who I can be and how I can show up. And I can be a part of this wide range of folks. So that entry piece is really interesting.

In the book, I talk to Aleta Hayes, who is a dance [00:34:00] instructor and a lecturer at Stanford. And she invites us to create kind of a threshold, and think of the threshold experience, and to really think of it as a dance. So I think that’s a great and powerful thing to think about: What’s the dance of joining a community that an entryway presents?

Some of the other moments I’d like to talk about are contributing and growing and also some interesting ones like dissent. How do we actually make demands and say what is or isn’t working? And that could be about a given space, that could be about the structure of organization. When you notice moments like dissent or contributing that aren’t working, then in particular, you want to open up these levers of design to actually shape or reshape or reimagine how things are [00:35:00] working.

So, “shaping” belonging then is about opening the tool kit of levers of design you can pull. And this is where — not so much for designers, but in a lot of the world — leaders have a small set of things they think they can do. They think, “Oh, I could send an email.” OK, email’s great, but there’s so much more you can do.

And that’s where designers, I think, have a really great contribution to play. Because then we can think about space and all the ways that it supports belonging. How can a space support the kinds of contributions that you want to make? That might be about specific, dedicated spaces that support ways of working, but it might also be back to the notion of storytelling and how you’re cuing the different kinds of folks that can be a part of it.

The other levers to think about, outside of space — but that space can support — are rules or rituals. How does this space cue you to coming in, joining the team, [00:36:00] making whatever contributions you need to make? Making whatever demands, or offering feedback, and also having a way to express what’s different or new for you that day or that week?

I also ask people to really think about time differently. That time is actually something that we can construct experiences with. We can think about schedules or rhythms in new ways. We often, vis-à-vis time, have these inherited methods that we’re used to. “The school year looks like this, the workweek looks like this.” The pandemic has helped us to recognize that these are opportunities, that they aren’t set in stone, that we can radically change them. And I’m hoping that we continue in that vein.

I was just hearing somebody speak from Dropbox, the tech company, that they now have a virtual-first orientation. That’s really powerful, because [00:37:00] they still have communal spaces. They’ve turned their office spaces now into what they’re calling studios, and you sign up to use those because you’re more purposely coming together. Your team may only be coming together every two weeks or once a month or in less time, but you’re really purposely designing the experience and using the space actively to support coming together in ways that you can’t when you’re working from home, for instance.

So, I love that the intentionality of design is so powerful. What I’m trying to do with Design for Belonging is to remind us to intentionally design for belonging to emerge.

Meredith: Susie reminds us that despite our very best efforts, we aren’t going to get it right every time, which can feel very uncomfortable. But acknowledging that something isn’t working like we intended it to is [00:38:00] crucial to getting belonging right. Thus, a spirit of experimentation has to emerge.

Susie: The humility that needs to come with this kind of design, I think, is really important to recognize that things aren’t always going to work out as we thought they would. We designed a new entry in order to support a new group feeling a sense of belonging and, in fact, we alienated those folks. That’s not going to feel super good, and we need to be honest about it. We don’t just muscle on, carry on. We say, “Wow, that new entry design felt alienating for the exact group we were hoping to reinvite into our space. That’s not good enough. There was harm done there, and we need to stop and pause, admit it, and then do the work to heal it, [00:39:00] do the work to make it right.”

So there’s a lot of vulnerability at every step of this process: feeling it, seeing it, and shaping it. And then remembering that the intentionality that we’re bringing has to continue. We’re not done. We’re still paying attention to who’s showing up and how are they feeling.

Meredith: We asked Susie for her advice to architects and designers who want to focus on designing for belonging in their projects. Where should they start?

Susie: I think designers and architects have a really great opportunity to focus on belonging as the outcome of their work. And so, really, my encouragement is to do just that, to think about where you feel belonging, and where you don’t. And then to ask to use our design [00:40:00] tools, whether it’s an emotional journey map, or a walk-through, or some kind of an empathic interview to dig in with folks and understand “What does belonging mean to them?”

Or a simple mind map with the client and the user of a space that you’re designing about what belonging means to them. And then digging into that, I think, is a really powerful way to remind yourself that belonging is what matters in all the spaces you create.

Meredith: Here’s Faye to close out the episode and share instructions on how to [00:41:00] obtain continuing education credit through IDCEC or AIA for listening.

Faye: Three key points from the episode that stood out to me:


  1. Design is highly personal. People see design uniquely based on their own life experiences. The simple awareness of this fact helps us begin to see design through different lenses of equity.
  2. Applying cultural curiosity and growing historical knowledge are small things that can make big impacts in design.
  3. Designers hold somewhat of a superpower in their ability to reduce othering and maximize moments of belonging. They do this through equitable design practices. This community plays a remarkably special role in actively removing barriers to create inclusion. [00:42:00]

The design of a space can be a quiet avenue to encouraging openness and authenticity, two words that actually appear in our leadership framework at Delta Faucet Company. These words have never been more important as we learn to exercise the muscle of design to incite positive energy, truth, and acceptance.

See all people. It’s a simple act that can make such a powerful difference. Thanks for listening today. To obtain credit, simply visit the show notes of this episode, and click the link to take a short quiz.

Meredith: Thanks for listening and learning with us in this episode of The Learning Objective. If you enjoyed what you heard, please rate, write, or review, and of course follow our show so you never miss an episode. [00:43:00]


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Meredith Campbell

Meredith Campbell is part of the research and content development team at ThinkLab, the intelligence division of SANDOW (the parent company of Interior Design Media,

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