In an industry focused on creating external beauty, Caleb Anderson wants to acknowledge the importance of helping designers reflect internally and take care of themselves. “This is a passion project for us,” he says of Well-Designed, the wellness-oriented trade network he and his partner, DeAndre DeVane, are launching this week. To address mental health among designers, and built on the values of sustainability, inclusivity, and social equity, the program “was born out of my own experience and also recognizing the experience of my peers and colleagues,” Anderson adds.
When, in 2018, the stress of work intensified, Anderson signed up for a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. “I was getting to a point in my career where I was just completely stressed out and anxious all the time. I lost almost all joy of design,” recalls Anderson, a partner at New York–based AD100 firm Drake Anderson. While at this restful escape, he met DeVane, a technology specialist turned wellness advocate and leadership coach, and the pair began evaluating Anderson’s professional intensity and anxiety. By the end of the trip, he had clarity: It was “not a sustainable pattern for me, and I needed to make some adjustments.”
Anderson had a feeling he wasn’t alone. Post-retreat research confirmed his inkling that mental health was often overlooked in this perfection-seeking, generally self-critical field. In surveying professionals, Anderson and DeVane found that stress and burnout levels among designers are second only to that of nurses, for instance. The couple set out to create a program that could have an impact beyond just changing their own lifestyle and habits.
At launch, Well-Designed is offering a series of in-person networking opportunities and workshops centered around sharing wellness information and practices. Anderson and DeVane will “tailor the themes to be appropriate to the design and architecture community,” Anderson notes, using tools such as meditation, sound baths, aromatherapy, and yoga. After its inaugural roll-out events—many hosted in collaboration with established design fairs around the country—the organization plans to host multiday nature retreats in the vein of the event that first brought Anderson and DeVane together.
Perhaps because of his vantage point as someone who’s “close to the industry by proxy,” DeVane has envisioned how wellness programming might look and feel somewhat different for architects and interior designers. “The level of conversation is at times superficial,” he observes. “I think it’s just a product of the nature of the creativity and expression of design. What gets lost is the human dynamic and human element of the people, and the stories that are connected to whatever that ultimate expression of beauty actually is.” Planned exercises have been designed to “open up those conversations, look at the reflection of individuals and the industry itself, and [ask]’What are we doing all of this for, and how can we do this in a different way?’”
In an industry that has more and more championed wellness as a consideration in projects, perhaps it’s time the pros shift their thinking upon themselves. Or, as DeVane puts it, it’s time to create “opportunities for people to work and to come together—and really produce beautiful work.”