A boss from a prominent design firm told me last month that the industry “needs a complete refocus”. She bemoaned the race to the bottom, efforts to drive down costs, and the challenging macroeconomic landscape. But could the UAE’s 12-year strategy to improve the quality of life for all Emiratis and residents be a catalyst for change? It remains to be seen, but the plan is a positive step in the right direction.
The National Strategy for Wellbeing 2031 is the UAE’s plan to position the nation as a world leader in happiness, mental wellbeing, physical and digital health. Up to 90 initiatives will be rolled out by the government to enhance our happiness in a transformative policy approved by the UAE Cabinet in June. It will lead to the creation of the first National Wellbeing Observatory to support the policy-making process, as well as the National Wellbeing Council, which will manage and coordinate the government’s strategy to improve happiness and quality of life.
Commercial Interior Design rarely weighs in on policy matters, but the latest announcement is significant. Design Worldwide Partnership has already said it is “delighted” by the move and told me it wants to collaborate with the National Wellbeing Council on using design to improve happiness.
Designers will often say thay well-designed workspaces have a positive impact on mental healh. Compelling evidence also puts forward suggestions that exposure to natural light in an office space, for example, can be conducive to positivity and productivity.
Humans are affected by natural daylight and nature, but through technology we are starting to retreat from the natural world into an increasingly urbanised environment that may not be as good for our mental health. But could a shift towards human-centric design under the UAE’s plan to make us happier and healthier be the answer? Could the plan help refocus the industry? Could it create an environment for businesses and individuals to flourish and thrive? Why not?
In HE Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi, the UAE created its first Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing; the 12-year plan to improve positivity is a continuation of this important societal journey.
Designers may have an important role to play in shaping the future of happiness and productivity in the UAE. Design may also be a catalyst for change that accelerates a shift in thinking. One that rejects pressure to maximise value and focuses instead on creating humanistic, holistic, happy, and healthy places to live, work and play.