International Design Day 2024 – Is It Kind?

Apr 26 2024

What is kind design? How can we build kind design into our practice?

Celebrated each spring since 1995, International Design Day commemorates the founding of the International Council of Design on April 27, 1963. Until 2020, this event was celebrated as World Design Day.  

International Design Day is an opportunity for us to recognize the value of design and its capacity to effect change. This year’s theme for International Design Day asks designers one question – is it kind?  

“Kind” design is a metric measured by how kind the design is to the world. Designing a kind space requires designers to come up with solutions that not only positively benefits the people using the space, but also positively impacts the environment, uses ethical labor to extract the raw materials and manufacture products, and positively impacts the entire community that the building is a part of.  

In honor of International Design Day, a few of our designers share their thoughts on how to effectively implement kind design into the design process and how kind design can positively impact the entire community – not just the users of the building.  

Meet the Designers

Jared Martinson is the director of MHAworks’ Durham office. With more than 20 years of experience, including time spent as an owners representative and construction manager, he has extensive knowledge of all phases of the design and construction process. Jared believed in a project approach that is consistently collaborative and focused on partnership.

Mari Pereira began her career in 2015 after obtaining dual degrees in interior design and family consumer science from Meredith College. In her role, Mari has gained experience with designing municipal, higher education, and commercial facilities. To be able to understand someone’s vision and bring it to life is one of the most exciting parts of her role.


1. How do you define kindness in design?

Mari: The first thing that I thought about, from an interior design perspective, was the selection of materials and really thinking about each product as a whole. It is dependent on the interior designer to think about the history of each product and suggest products that are kind to the environment. If we are kind to the environment, we are not only being kind to the earth, but also to the workers that are manufacturing the product and the individuals using the product.

As a designer, I am constantly thinking about how I can select materials that give back to the planet as much as they take away and asking myself questions like – how does the product impact the local economy? How will the product be transported? What kinds of materials is the product made from? Are any of these materials toxic?

I’ve learned that sometimes when searching for less expensive options there can be bigger consequences in the long run.

Jared: I found myself thinking about what kindness means in general. That led me to the concept of universal design. To me, kindness in design is about designing equitably and trying to design to accommodate as many people as possible.

When we’re working on a multifamily project, for example, I try to think about who is going to be interacting with the building such as the residents of the building, the maintenance staff, or people who will be delivering pizza. Everyone will be interacting with the space, and I strive to work with the team to create spaces that everyone can share in.

The other side of the coin encompasses a lot of what Mari was talking about. Choosing the right materials can really shape the experience in the space and the greater impact of the building. One of the greatest things about architecture is that it is made to be experienced. So many things in our culture now can be experienced through images or videos, but architecture engages all the senses. When designers can engage all those different senses to create a positive experience, that’s where kindness comes in.  

2. How can architectural design help improve major challenges our communities are currently experiencing including social and economic inequity?

Mari: Affordable housing was the first thing that came to my mind for this question. I’ve done work with this in the United States, and Brazil does a lot of this work as well.

Jared: How does Brazil handle affordable housing?

Mari: Affordable housing in Brazil is the same concept that we use in the United States. The buildings are often high-rise, everyone gets the same floorplan, and there are certain criteria individuals need to meet to qualify. Kindness comes in for the design of affordable housing because we have a responsibility to give people an acceptable place to live. We need to create spaces for people to live safely and give them peace of mind knowing that the place they are living is stable.

 Sometimes kindness in design can be simple. As designers, we always want to do the next great thing, something that could be on the front of a magazine, but sometimes the kindest and most impactful spaces we can create are the most simple, efficient, and safe.

Jared: Piggybacking on what Mari said, while there are basic needs that people have like shelter from weather, a safe place to sleep, and access to resources, we can always go a step beyond when designing buildings. Where designers can go further in designing kind, affordable housing is taking into consideration necessities that are often forgotten about – like access to natural lighting and a connection with nature.

I think a lot about housing in larger cities that are surrounded by towers and concrete. People who live in these bigger cities, like New York or London, don’t have a lot of exposure to nature, and experience a lot of challenges connecting to basic needs. Trying to find creative ways to design affordable housing that not only provides shelter but also creates a happy environment for residents is a big piece of the puzzle.

Mari: The WELL concept came from that. Understanding design is not just about creating a box that provides some needs, it’s about creating buildings that make people feel good. The great thing about kind design is that it is all-encompassing and strives to solve problems and not to create more.

3. How can designers challenge themselves to be changemakers in their communities?

Mari: Being able to have the vision of creating spaces that may not be profitable but can create a good environment.

Jared: Yes, and collaborating with clients to create value even when it may not be perceived as economic value. Often, budgets are limited, but finding ways to fit in those basic, sensory, and emotional bookmarks make an enormous difference for the people who experience buildings.

For example, in the US, multifamily projects are typically double loaded corridors like a hotel. If we can locate a window at the end of the hallway, it’s a win for the project because it brings in natural lighting and creates a more pleasant experience.

Capturing these things that are meaningful to all of us, like access to natural lighting, and implementing those elements of universal design are small elements, that when combined, make a massive impact on the quality of design and the user experience.

4. How do you build kind design into your design practice?

Jared: Encouraging reflection and conscious consideration as early and as often in the design process as possible. We challenge teams to be as compassionate as possible and think about all the people that will be interacting with the space. There are code requirements, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that are being considered, and our goal is to encourage other designers to view these codes not as a hinderance to the design, but as guidance to help us create a more meaningful end product.

Mari: I 100% agree with that. I remember when I was working on a renovation project at Pitt Community College, we were discussing where to locate the ADA ramp. I remember having conversations that adding this ramp shouldn’t feel like it is an after thought to the user. It was about creating an accessible grand entrance that allows all people to experience the same first impression of the building.

What Jared said is 100% correct. To put those challenges on designers to think about the building’s impact and ensure users have an equitable and pleasant experience of the building is so important. Another project that comes to mind is a renovation we are currently working on at UNC for the South Building. This building was built in the 1700s, so ADA accessibility was an afterthought and so was installing a ramp later in the buildings’ history. Although users who need the ramp won’t be able to experience the same grand entrance, the team worked together to create solutions that made the ramp entrance a more pleasant experience, such as adding lighting and changing the slope to meet ADA code requirements.

Jared: In that last example, the history of that building is that the basement area we are renovating was either not meant to be accessed through the grand entrance and/or it was used for storage or mechanical.

Mari: Yeah, the history of the basement level of the South Building is that it was only used for mechanical equipment. That was the biggest challenge for this project – clearing that basement up and making it into an inviting office space.

Jared: So we’ve taken that ramp, which is not well considered, to make it better. The ramp is going to be safer, better lit, and that area of the building will be more accessible and will provide a better experience for everyone. That’s a form of kindness in design – making a space that was once something that was not desirable or available for all people to access and making it into a space that touches more people in a positive way.