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Environment Design

Environment Design

One of the main characteristics of today's world is an incredible flexibility and control when it comes to our environment.

That flexibility and control, however, also means that there's a lot of unfulfilled potential.

It is one of the main self-help maxims that our environment greatly shapes our character.

But how many of us take full responsibility for our environment? How many of us design it with any skill?

I'd say few.

There are different types of environment, and most of us exercise only a limited amount of intention over them.

Kinds of environment:

  • Physical
  • Digital
  • Social

Naturally, these categories overlap, but the distinction is practical.

1. Physical Environment

The obvious distinction to make is interior vs exterior.

Interiors are where most people spend most their time.

However, arguably, the external environment may be more powerful on a primal level.

Yet, both the interior design and the choice of the exterior environment often suffer.

The interior often suffers for 2 main reasons: it's costly to change (in effort if not $), and it requires skill to change it to produce a desired effect and increase well being. If it were easy, there wouldn't be any interior designers.

The main reasons why exterior environment suffers are many. For one, cities are mainly designed for cars, not people. That fact alone plays a huge role. When it comes to country-side environment, the local geography and weather conditions become the main limits on what we can do.

Overall, the most likely limit for the physical environment is money. It's often costly to rearrange the current environment or relocate altogether.

2. Digital Environment

Once we're staring at a screen, we get pulled out of our immediate surroundings and into the digital world.

The digital world is made out of experiences mostly designed by others, and for other people's benefit.

The onus is on us as individuals to bend a little corner of the digital world to our will and make it work.

It's hard to use digital tools deliberately because of 2 main factors: complexity and other people's designs.

Designing a completely personalized digital environment would require careful cataloguing of all input streams and then curating them effectively. It would also mean making changes to every generic technological solution built for scalability.

So the curation of our digital environment is done in a Tetris-like fashion, accepting each pre-fabricated block falling from the sky and trying to make it fit together somehow.

3. Social Environment

The 5 chimp theory says that you can predict the mood and behavior of 1 chimp by observing which 5 chimps they hang out with the most. This rule illustrates that the people in our surroundings greatly influence our behavior.

However, this rule is now 2-layered: there's the physical layer and the digital layer. The people in each layer can be vastly different, and the extent to which different people are invested in different layers also differs vastly.

The level to which we exercise control over our social environment also differs. For the most part, we seem to be content to be grouped according to serendipity (who we meet) or circumstance (school, jobs).


In all three of these environment categories, there's a lot of room for improvement.

Now with digital nomadic lifestyles, we have more opportunity than ever to experiment with environment design.

It's good to see more co-habitation projects pop up that (presumably) aim to increase the ease of collective environment organization and increase the amount of environmental experimentation in general.

Greater experimentation should ultimately lead to improving the quality our environment in the future, in enriching our social enviroment and better understanding which attributes of the physical environment, and to a lesser extent the digital environment are important to us.