Design Thinking for the Creative Herbalist
As herbalists, we are naturally using design processes all the time. Working in the plant and human world for the purpose of healing we are constantly dealing in very complex worlds. Plants are extremely complex as beings, as are human (& other animals). To deal with this complexity, we like to learn a tradition and adopt a framework for navigating this wildly colorful territory.
But maybe you, like me, constantly bump up against the fact that these are indeed lenses that we choose in order to understand these relationships and subsequently interact with those around us. From our studies, teachers and experiences we create conceptual frameworks from which we act. That’s helpful and practical, but I want to push you to go past what you know is comfortable and reimagine your practice so you are doing the wildest, most liberating brilliant work that you can. It’s because I care about your work–it’s hugely important! & we, the World, want you to bring your best to us.
A Way-Too-Brief Intro to Design Thinking
Part of my background is in Whole Systems Design. This is where I’m coming from so I’ll explain a little bit about it.
Whole Systems Design is just what is says it is—it’s conscious, intentional design with the whole system in mind. It’s about understanding when some problems require technical solutions (like a chain that needs to be replaced on my bike) and those that are adaptive challenges and require design thinking (the unemployment rates in my community).
Design thinking is being conscious and aware of the values that drive the formation of something—a product, written work, clinical practice, whatever. It’s about building from the ground up, from your passions & values. And then the form emerges. But don’t just adopt a form because someone else is using it.
I think of Design as a love child of Science and Art. Design is a culture beyond Art and Science. It requires creative process but also utilizes methods of inquiry so that what is created is relevant and useful. Herbal practice is both and Art and Science. It’s Design.
Botanical Medicine Design
There are infinite amounts of ways to make medicine from plants for the benefit of others. Goodness, just think of all the systems and traditions of medicine out there! With the plethora of spectrums of which to conceive of medicine, we are always making choices. Which plants? Parts? Menstrum? Moon signs and cosmic alignments? How to administer? You get the point. And we learn traditions, practices and methods that give us a working framework to make these choices.
Question of the Moment: What is the framework by which you design your medicines? Can you think outside your own box on your next project? Push your limits, reevaluate your assumptions.
Practice, Clinic and Consultation Design
Practice is an iterative process. Over time, you get to hone the kind of practitioner you and how you interact with clients. You design and redesign your office or clinic. What values drive your practice? How is that reflected in your clients’ experience with you?
What if your consultations were done in your garden? Or during a plant walk? What about home visits? What if plants did the consultations?
For a moment, let your imagination spin and ask: What if?…
Worry about the practicality later.
I love seeing herbalists design creative education programs—ones that go beyond teaching the same forms of medicine at the same herb shops or schools or something. For example, my fellow collective member Emma Rose of the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic taught an intro to herbalism class at the women’s prison nearby last month. Or Sean Donahue teaching the teleseminar series on Herbal Allies for a Changing World. It’s creative and very relevant to where people are now. It’s really inspiring work.
Who are you serving with your work? Are there people whose needs aren’t being met?
Finally: who are YOU as an herbalist? How do you define or redefine the term? Is there a box around herbal practice? If so, are you pushing those limits? Don’t aspire to be like others. (And please, check out Kiva Rose & Jesse Wolf Hardin’s Diversity in Herbalism series!) Yes, it’s important to learn the domain and follow the teachings of others. We need to always be learning. But be intentional about it and know when it’s time to break the mold. Be strategic with how you interact with the herb world & larger social system. Don’t get stuck in a box. It’s dark and stinky in the box.
I don’t have the answers. But answers don’t matter all that much: it’s the good questions that count. Ask yourself the powerful questions. Question your assumptions, evaluate your frameworks.
Most of all, design who you are from your heart’s passion and values. After all, you’re the creator of your life, legacy & practice.