Design & Nutrition: Why Good Health Makes Good Design

health nutrition design

I wanted to take a tangent from normal discussions and talk about something near and dear to my heart: personal health. I’ve had my own struggles of self-doubt, difficulty focusing on projects, and being flat-out tired when I needed more energy. My designs have suffered; I’ve delivered sub-par results to clients, and I’ve known it.

There are strong arguments to be made that nutrition affects nearly every aspect of one’s daily experience. What we see, how we think, and even what we feel all have a strong root in nutrition and overall health. I know you’re hesitant to keep reading at this point but let me assure you I’m not going to recommend a juice fast!

Pillars of Nutrition

Let me start by saying I have zero medical background. I read a lot of studies, have experimented on myself continuously for decades, but have no formal training in the field of medicine or nutrition. In other words, don’t make any medical decisions based on what you read here!

With that in mind, I’ve developed some basic understandings of nutrition and health that help me be a better designer (and person). These are what I jokingly refer to as my “pillars” of health. With no further ado:

Pillar One: Food First, Supplements Second

Advertisers would have us all believe that the only thing that separates us from having our dream body is a $19.99 bottle of SuperFatBurner Pro. I believe that dietary supplements can be invaluable tools in helping to balance and optimize one’s state of health but shouldn’t be the primary focus. Eating well-balanced meals that provide rich profiles of essential amino acids, minerals, and digestive-supporting compounds like fatty acids and fiber is numero uno in my book. Don’t get me wrong, not all supplement brands are out to scam you. In fact, many of the best supplement brands out there focus on creating whole-food derived products!

Pillar Two: When in Doubt, Move Around

Humans didn’t evolve sitting at desks. In fact, we evolved running around, fighting, and looking for food. Our bodies are designed to do these things and sedentary lifestyles drive us crazy, on an evolutionary level. I mentioned that I read a lot of medical papers (a weird hobby, I know.) One of the ones that stick out in my memory most found that running a little lowered the risk of any and all heart disease. Genetic factors, diet, and previous medical history aside: running will help you live longer. Other studies describe that walking for as little as 15 minutes a day can help reduce the risk for all forms of illness as well.

Pillar Three: Sleep is Essential

We’ve all burned the midnight oil during crunchtime. These times push us to our limits and often require sacrificing hours in bed for hours at work. Sleep is the time of day where our bodies repair damages from the previous day, go through cycles of rejuvenation that don’t happen during the day, and prepare us for the next disaster. When you sacrifice sleep you sacrifice health. When I feel my focus dropping off, my concentration ebbing, or even my well of inspiration running dry, I can usually flush everything up by getting some extra sleep. The biggest mistake I used to make is thinking that sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday would make up for a week’s of missed sleep. NOT TRUE. Get quality sleep every night or your work will suffer.

Health is Balance

I’ve found that different aspects of my life often mirror one another. For example, if I’ve been eating a really imbalanced diet for a few days I notice my work shifts to really focus on specific heuristics of design. Maybe everything is red and orange, maybe I’m obsessed with cathedral ceilings, or maybe I just avoid using large windows. It’s always different but that’s kind of the same, right? The bottom line is that when one aspect of my life becomes unbalanced so do others. The single most-influential factor of such is my own health. When it becomes unbalanced everything else does.

Final Meditations

If you made it this far then I thank you for entertaining my crazy ideas. I’ve found that focusing on my health, personal life balance, and overall nutrition especially, all help make me a better designs. When my health improves so does the quality of my work. When I feel like crap, my work starts feeling (and looking) that way as well. I’m no doctor and can’t recommend which supplements to take. What I can say is this: feeling better becomes addictive. Once you get a little taste you’ll have no problem going all-in.

James is an interior designer with a Master's of Fine Art from the Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids Michigan. He's passionate about keeping up with new trends of design as well as growing his own appreciation for those of the past.