‘Breathful’ design in breathless times


  • Markus Wernli Urban Environments Lab School of Design Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • Britta Boyer Institute for Design Innovation, Loughborough University London




This position paper seeks to address the operational logic that created the conditions for the pandemic to take hold. Grasping the crisis as an opportunity for an anthropological inquiry across disciplines, this exploration firmly anchors design inside the social commitment required by breathing bodies and life-enabling atmospheres. By infusing the self-understanding of design with experiences and conceptions from Eastern and Western ‘breathwork’ practices the adaptation strategy in uncertainty shifts from perpetuating the status quo towards the creative reinterpretation of internal priorities. It also changes the nature of our projects, from making to enacting, from preprogrammed solutions to earthly engagement, from interfacing with inert matter to caring for living matters. Taking our universally shared breath as the resounding call for action, ‘breathful’ design is about the never-finished, perpetually opening task of persisting through bodily vigilance, diligence, and self-critical forsight for ‘knowing what to do when no one knows what to do’.

Author Biographies

Markus Wernli, Urban Environments Lab School of Design Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Markus Wernli is a research assistant professor with the Urban Environments Lab focussing on design anthropology, citizen science and craftivism. His research sits in the activist space between design, education, and agroecological practices for exploring socially transformative methods. His particular interest is how indigenous resource cultivating models can be contemporized for bolstering adaptation and leadership in wider social context.

Britta Boyer, Institute for Design Innovation, Loughborough University London

Britta Boyer is a final year doctoral researcher within the Institute for Design Innovation at Loughborough University, London. A former design practitioner and early pioneer of sustainable fashion working with post-consumer denim waste in the 1990’s. Fundamental to Britta’s worldview is that she self-identifies with being an immigrant, never living in her birthplace and growing up across three continents. Creative practice led to working across various geographical locations, most recently Bali for almost 20 years; Britta also lived in Indonesia as a child. The diversity of these experiences across both the Global North and South resulted in acute understanding of the competing discourses, in design, and ways in which creativity is used as a hegemonic term within policy, education and the creative industries. It is the growing response “ability” (Sacks, 2017) towards patterns of organisation and world-making that support diversity and the more than human worlds that led Britta back into academia in 2016. Britta’s work is interdisciplinary and integrates qualitative and sensory ethnographic approaches, through design anthropology, that explore non-exploitative human development through creativity and the storied nature of human activity.






Reflections on the design processes adopted in response to the pandemic crisis