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  • Andrew Levitt, Guest Contributor

Listening to Design

Listening to Design by Andrew Levitt Book Cover

Listening to Design is focused on the inner world of the designer. The book is not concerned with a particular style, formal approach or choice of materials. Instead it is about the way designers can transform the doubts, desires and psychological trials of the creative process into authentic and meaningful design decisions. After many years teaching design to architecture students and also working as a psychotherapist I wanted to share my passion about the powerful way our inner world shapes the built world. Here are five points that offer a glimpse into the way designers can flourish:

The world is designed

From the butter knife to the greenbelt, from your street to your favorite web site our world is designed. Our appetite for material progress can’t be stopped but we can become more aware that in the 21st century our survival and well being depends on wise design. A holistic approach to design rests on growing our understanding of how to harness both inner and outer resources in a way that was inconceivable a hundred years ago.


A condition of contemporary design practice that is both alarming and liberating is that there are fewer and fewer agreements about what constitutes “good design”. Do we need a particular style? Should design try to help others? What is wasteful? What is wise? What can a building contribute to the world? The creative experience has always been intense and unpredictable but today’s designer faces an ever-expanding range of options at every turn with no clear sense of cultural direction or support. I think the range of choices and lack of societal agreements have become a hallmark of contemporary design and have caused the centre of gravity of the creative act to shift from society to the individual. And this means that every designer now carries an increased burden to create authentically in order to deliver meaning and pleasure. Though we live in a time of unprecedented access to technology, digitally based tools do not necessarily address issues of awareness, insight or authenticity. Listening to Design is focused on bringing a new range of inner tools to contemporary designers to address this issue. The book posits that the built world and the inner world are inseparable and have the potential to touch us through the act of design.


The transformative capacity of listening is barely acknowledged in the training of designers yet offers a royal road to accessing an authentic creative voice. The ability to listen to others is also excellent training for listening to our own creative instincts and quietly underpins our ability to bring empathy and compassion to problem solving. This is because the source of creative confidence doesn't arise from the ego trying to “get” an idea, but from the Self that is willing to listen inwardly. Listening teaches us the value of being present in a way that makes a space for the creative voice which, if we are lucky, may from time to time visit us.


Universally experienced yet rarely discussed, we are educated to misunderstand the role problems and imperfection play in our lives. For designers the turbulent process of bringing new ideas into the world is inevitably filled with difficulties and complications. What role do problems play in our creative life? Problems are agents of change whose purpose is to let us know our work needs to go deeper. There is energy and insight tangled in our long held opinions and learning from emotional turbulence is essential to the creative enterprise. Any honest assessment of creative accomplishment would be incomplete without understanding the benevolent role problems play in guiding our work. Changed by what challenges us, hopefully we can give voice to these lessons through our work as designers.


The education of a designer inevitably involves learning how to wrestle. Knowing how to hold onto good ideas and when to let go of tired approaches takes years of experience. As we lean into our creative life we begin to develop a new relationship with not only our imagination but also our ability to surmount challenges. Design is both an unspoken craft and a social skill. Both require knowing when to lead and when to follow. Every creative enterprise involves working back and forth between groups whose complexities can easily overwhelm our best intentions. At the end of the day, the reason it take so long to become a designer is not only because we need to integrate technical know-how into our work, but because we need to acquire a new imagination. Cultivating a new imagination, and making it your own, was the inspiration for this book.

Listening to Design can be purchased at Amazon and Indigo Books.

About the Author

Andrew Levitt

Andrew Levitt teaches in the design studios at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, Canada. He has also trained and practised as a psychotherapist. He is the author of The Inner Studio: A Designer’s Guide to the Resources of the Psyche (2006).

#creativeprocess #willingtolisten #ListeningtoDesign

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