Drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.

Introducing a design approach to a relevant, deeply human topic.

When most people hear the word “wisdom” they think of white-bearded wizards like Harry Potter’s mentor Dumbledore. Plato, shared this view that wisdom was theoretical and abstract, and the gift of only a few. Aristotle disagreed.

Your colleague tries to convince you to vote for an opposing political party. A charity asks for your money. A girl you don't really like asks you on a date. What do all of these situations have in common? According to Aristotle, they all require wisdom to decide how to rightfully act.

“Wisdom isn’t just abstract and fluffy. Making the right choices in our everyday social situations also requires wisdom.”

- Aristotle Identifying a type of practical wisdom

The type of practical wisdom that Aristotle talks about isn’t a gift that only Ghandi and Dumbledore posses, but it can be gained by anybody. This is great news because recent studies in wisdom science have shown that wise people generally live longer, suffer from fewer depressions and have better relationships. Wisdom is at the heart of happiness.

Since wisdom can be gained by anybody, can this be stimulated through the products we use in our everyday lives?

Experts Consulted

Design Today

From efficiency to happiness

If we look at the products we use today, we see services like Uber that lets us save time on our way to work. We see an Amazon Echo that lets us control our blinds while our smart toothbrush reminds us to brush our teeth and robots patrol our homes.

Most of today’s products turn people into more practical and efficient beings, users of ‘smart’ things. We outsource our mundane tasks to save time, but in reality we have never been busier and more distracted trying to manage our push notifications while running updates on our smart devices.

Today's products turn people into more efficient and practical beings, not wiser ones. What kind of products can help people to pursue wisdom?

Design Principles

Discovering design principles

Going from something abstract and fluffy to concrete design principles.

The process of finding how design can apply to wisdom was informed by a variety of research methods ranging from in-person interviews with philosophers and psychologists to conducting workshops with a group of travelers.

Insights about what wisdom is and how to gain wisdom guided early design explorations. The goal of these explorations was to find potential products that would make people wiser. These products were evaluated with potential users, borrowing evaluation scales from wisdom science.

Finally, the learnings from doing design explorations led to 5 design principles which are believed to be important requirements for empowering users of products to gain wisdom. These principles are:

Stimulate Reflection

When Anna meditated she suddenly realized that the person that offended her earlier wouldn’t have done it if he'd known how it would make her feel. 

You cannot consume wisdom, like you can consume knowledge. Wisdom is found inwards, hence why the act of reflecting is the foundation to becoming wiser.

Embrace Contextuality

Luapula from Zambia was married off at an age of 15, because this increased her safety and the bride price gave her family a field of maize.

Every situation is unique. What is the wisest thing to do in a particular situation isn’t universal or fixed. It depends on the time, location and culture. It’s highly contextual.

Trigger Perspective Shifts

Joe was angry at Helen for voting for the right-wing party. However once he engaged in a dialogue and put himself into her shoes, he was able to forgive her.

Wise people don’t just understand that their perspective on the world is just one in many, they are able to seamlessly shift perspectives.

Celebrate Diversity

According to John it would be wise to report the cheating of his classmates to the teacher, whereas Hellen thinks this would be unethical.

What might seem unwise on the surface, might actually be very thoughtful and considered. We shouldn’t judge, but celebrate this diversity.

Consider the Common Good

Laura watched a documentary about the food industry and was shocked to see eating beef is destroying the planet. Afterwards she decided to cut on her meat consumption.

Wisdom not about being extremely altruistic or extremely selfish, but finding a balance. Wise people find ways to benefit others that also advance their own objectives.

Experts Consulted

Design Examples

Products that stimulate wisdom

A growing collection of products that demonstrate the design for wisdom principles.

Shift.io challenges you to look at the world from different perspectives. Design Fiction

An app that allows you to consume the news, while easily shifting between news sources, seeing how different news sources report about the same news.

Trigger Perspective Shifts, Celebrate Diversity, Stimulate Reflection

The Purpose Project by IDEO helps students find their life's purpose.

A course and digital platform that helps high school students find out what matters in their lives by stimulating them to reflect on their day to day.

Stimulate Reflection, Embrace Contextuality

Pop your Bubble adds people on Facebook outside your political bubble.

Trigger Perspective Shifts, Celebrate Diversity, Stimulate Reflection

Another Lens by AirBnB is a design research toolkit that aims to reduce biases.

Celebrate Diversity, Trigger Perspective Shifts, Consider the Common Good


Would you like more wisdom? Spread the word online.

The world is drowning in information, but starving for wisdom. Let's design for wisdom. @callforwisdom
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