Live from HXD: Designing Everyday Life to be Healthier

Designing Everyday Life to be Healthier, by Steve Downs

The US has the lowest life expectancy but the highest health expenditure, compared to many other 1st world countries. We are also not even in the top 40 countries of lowest age-related disease burden. (We’re #53, in the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study.)

Being Healthy is Hard

We eat food in our cars. We binge-watch Netflix. We spend hours driving, or sitting at work. These behaviors are not ideal for the human body. Not to mention all the socio-economic factors.

Daniel Lieberman says that we are not evolved for the world we’ve created. We “have become maladapted in the modern environments we have now created.”

Part of the problem is that we treat health like an app – we leave intact all the fundamentals of day-to-day life, and then add on a veneer of wellness. That’s not good enough. We need to build health deep into our operating systems, and confronting the facts of everyday life.

Building in Healthy Behaviors

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” -Churchill

We need to build health into the OS. We can either identify healthy behaviors and build them in, or we can pick things that are not about health, but can be shifted to consider health.

  • What if Google maps defaulted to walking if a distance is under 15min?
  • What if spending time outside was promoted?
  • What if cooking at home was easier?
  • What if walking down sidewalks was as easy as hopping in a car?
  • What if Netflix didn’t consider sleeping a competitor?

These behaviors are enjoyable. They’re just less convenient than what’s being marketed. But they improve mental health.

Who’s Doing It?

HelloFresh and BlueApron aren’t perfect, but they do make it easier to cook at home. Electric bikes help make biking a little more available to more people. There’s a company called f.lux that removes the blue light on laptops, which suppress melatonin. (It doesn’t tell you to go to sleep. It just removes some of the conditions that make it harder to sleep.) And of course Pokemon Go.

We don’t know how these technologies will define the new normal. But we know that they will.

We need to be explicit about what we want the future to look like, and what values will shape them.

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