Why We Should Always Define the Words We Use
When I first came to a small studio, it felt like I was learning to speak a new language.
However, there were also new words I was learning that I thought I already knew.
Identity. Love. Peace.
Each word was embedded into complex phrases I thought I understood, so I didn’t give myself the time to deconstruct them.
Identity-driven design. Bringing peace to people’s lives.
Intellectually I thought I knew what these phrases meant.
One day, I was challenging John on the word identity. Why not self, or soul? It felt like we needed something more ephemeral than identity to capture not just what someone was, but who, and how, and why.
Look up the word identity, he said.
I knew what identity meant. I used it enough at least. But, I googled the word anyhow.
identity the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.
I paused. The sentence didn’t make sense. How can a word mean the fact of being… What did the fact of being even mean?
That’s why he chose the word, he explained.
Identity itself seemed to perfectly capture the essence and un-capturable nature of identity.
In the Identity Architecture Workshop, I was asked to define love. Although stringing the right words together felt challenging, it seemed to me that it was only a matter of that — stringing the right words together to define what love was.
The work, decision, and promise to unconditionally give, support, trust in, and forgive someone.
It turns out that this wasn’t a definition everyone shared. It hadn’t occurred to me that we could see the same word — love — so differently.
And in reflecting on the moments that I felt the most loved, each one was based on these things - support, trust, and forgiveness. It was my dad reaching out his hand one morning and telling me that despite everything I had done to not deserve his love, he would always be there.
The way we experience the world around us, is influenced by the way in which we’re able to put it into words. And just because love is a word we all use, doesn’t mean that we all use it in the same way.
When I first read that a small studio was a collection of creatives using their gift of design to bring peace to people’s lives I had no idea what that meant. I knew each word individually, but somehow together they made much less sense.
Peace to me was something we all hoped to achieve, but not a commodity that could be shared or created.
But bringing peace to people’s lives is an idea that I’ve thought a lot about since my time at a small studio. To me, peace isn’t just an absence of conflict. It’s a state of wholeness, completeness, and unshakeable calm that comes from being seen and healed.
Designers at a small studio bring peace to people’s lives not just through design. Peace is something that comes through conversation that aims to heal, and using our words in a way that helps others feel seen.
At a small studio, I have learned that learning a new language doesn’t always mean learning new words — sometimes it can just mean learning or relearning how we define the words we use.