Imagine, for a moment, a place where you truly felt like you belonged. Somewhere that made you feel like you could be you.
As we return to the office, belonging has taken center stage. It’s a hot topic as we discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s also extremely relevant as we encourage people to return to a place (the office) where they should feel a sense of belonging –– perhaps now more than ever.
But can a sense of belonging be designed within our policies, rituals, and daily work? According to our good friend and brilliant educator/designer Susie Wise, the answer is yes. Her new book, Design for Belonging, published in the latest release of Stanford d.school guides alongside her fellow design thinking cohort. gives us a roadmap on how to create moments of belonging using various levers of design to make it happen.
According to Wise, belonging isn’t just a sense or feeling. Belonging can bring out the very best in everyone. The more we invite and encourage people to participate, the more connected they’ll feel and the more equity they’ll experience. And the level of this experience will largely shape how organizations work.
Space can also increase a sense of belonging. For Wise, both indoor and outdoor areas can be tools that shape our behaviors and rituals through cues. She asks for us to consider how powerful signals like light, furniture, outdoor access, and signage can be leveraged to welcome a wide range of people, ways of thinking, and open contributions.
As you can imagine, this is right up our alley. We’re on a mission to create places that bring out the best in people. And that starts with taking a step back and thinking deeply about solutions that aren’t one size fits all for everyone who gathers inside them. The key to belonging is looking at each environment and asking what belonging looks like for a diverse group of people. These insights can’t come from assuming. They must come straight from those who use the space.
In other words, we agree with our friend and author. Belonging won’t happen automatically. And organizations who believe it will sort themselves out regardless of environment or plan will inevitably find the opposite is true. Belonging must be considered, designed, and mindfully put into practice. If we do, employees will feel a greater sense of connection as well as a seat at the table.
To explore more, check out the podcast we hosted with Susie Wise in 2020. We explored the same topic. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities, you can get a copy where books are sold. We highly recommend it.