Here's How Design Will Help You Live A Better Life

By Rue Kothari
12 February 2019
Illustration: Michael Hoeweler
Rue Kothari unpacks how to live more stylishly and make better design choices

One month ago, I moved into a new flat. Surrounded by boxes and eviscerated pieces of furniture, my husband and I decided to divide up the work, like all modern couples do.

“I’ll put together all the furniture,” he said. “And you can do the girls stuff.”

“What’s girl’s stuff?” I asked, more than ready to pounce.

“Cushions,” he said.

We laughed about it, because that’s what you do post-awkward silence. But cushions, really?

“Surely I can do more than that,” I countered. “I work in design.”

“That’s like interior design, right? Like I said, cushions.”

There we have it gentleman (and ladies), the start of my new home, my series of columns for GQ, and where it seems most appropriate to begin.

Yes, I do work in design, but not in that archetypal feminine world of interior design, or ‘cushions’ as Eliot calls it. I work in and am passionate about design in all its disciplines. From the macro (architecture, building communities, ensuring people have access to technology and clean water) right the way through to the micro (the car you drive, the cut of your jacket right the way through to the chair you choose to sit on). Without you realising it, design is subliminally and significantly affecting the experience you have of the world and the choices you make.

Opening people’s eyes is the most important part of what I do. Making them aware of what is possible, and why having an understanding or appreciation of design helps you to make better, more informed choices about the way you choose to live. It puts you in control.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally love throwing a few cushions around the place, but I do want to know where those cushions came from, what they’re made of and how many small children were exploited in a village sweatshop in India in order to sell them to me at a ridiculously cheap price (hopefully none).

And that’s what I’m getting at. We no longer live in a world of restricted information, only restricted imaginations. We have infinite choice, thanks to the internet, and the power to decide whether that benign cushion is yet just another useless and potentially harmless purchase, or not.

Can I say at this point, that I’m not some kind of moral crusader, nor am I trying to change the world one cushion at a time. I’m like everyone else, a person with values and priorities. Design is just a language I use to express them, and that language is universal.

Men and women are equally susceptible to the visceral beauty of objects. For me, cars are like a work of art. You get drawn in by the sleek lines, the animalistic proportions, the smell of the leather. This is utterly subjective. But to lay down that wad of cash for your car, you’re going to want to know a bit more information about torque, speed, fuel consumption blah’re inexplicably attracted by the beauty of the thing, but it’s what’s also been designed ‘under the hood’ that will keep you loving it long after the new car smell has faded. In order to make the right choice and reap the benefits, you need to know what questions to ask. And to know what questions to ask, you need to understand cars.

All design is the same. If you buy a cool chair you love the look of, get it home, settle into it and after an hour discover you’re mortally uncomfortable... that’s bad design. It has to have both form and function. It needs to be durable. And you need to still love it 10 years later when all the knocks and scratches have only added to its beauty, and its value.

Our environment, fuelled by rapid changes in technology, is evolving at such a velocity that it’s hard to keep up, or even understand our place in it. Design is the one thing that keeps us connected to the world – it’s the tool that helps us navigate through physical and digital spaces, that shows us what’s possible.

Once your eyes are open to the power of design, you can make original, brave, non-conformist decisions: buy a ‘cleaner’ car, live in a smarter, more connected community, buy sustainable products and ultimately shape a stylish, distinctive life defined by positive, conscious choice. Sometimes, it’s as simple as knowing how to buy a fair trade cushion without feeling emasculated – and well, that’s a step in the right direction.