The first question a designer asks is, "What's the message you're trying to convey?" or "What's the story we're telling?" It doesn't matter if it's graphic design, interior design, cake design, event design - all design is meant to convey a look and feel that supports a message.
Unintentional design does the same thing.
Remember that college dorm room with the clothing all over, food cartons and bags in random places, the discarded beer bottle or twelve mixed in with stacks of books and projects? Remember your impressions of that person? Was it you? Sometimes, it was me. For as OCD as I can be about cleanliness and organization, when I get wrapped in a project - something suffers. I stop cooking and eat crappy food or forget to make the bed (read: choose not to in rebellion to my childhood!)
As I've gotten older and my professional career has grown, my habits and outlook have changed. I can't function if there isn't cursory cleanliness and organization. I may still eat out, but there is no trash left behind or I eat somewhere I can sit down and brainstorm. My clothing has its own management system so I always wear something that's clean, color coordinated and easy to access. (There are women who have color coded their wardrobes while separating the tops, bottoms, and dresses respectively. That's my goal when I finally have a closet big enough!)
Why the big change?
I had to change the message my life design was conveying. I'm still the artist that gets lost in her craft, but I have tools in place now to keep my life looking controlled and professional. It's taken a while to get there, but the look and feel matter.
Recently, I have been helping an acquaintance plan a family event. She has a general sense of "what she wants the event to be like" for her guests, but no actual theme or design plan. There was some random looking at Pinterest and other DIY sites and magazines, but as these ideas were being oohed and aahed - I asked that important base question, "What's the story we're telling?"
It wasn't just a family reunion, it was the return of a family member that for reasons that don't matter here has been out of the family bower for many years. They have changed their life and are coming back - the family wants to give a "big welcome" but not "overwhelm" the prodigal family member. The original plans had included renting out a fancy restaurant and making a huge spectacle of the person. Not that making a spectable was the intent, but it would have been the outcome. Also, considering what the person has been through as well as some of the family background, the outright lavishness of the event would have been off-putting. The family discussed it as length and later came back with an alternate plan to have the event at someone's home.
As we discussed the location (an uncle's large home) and budget, it became clear what kind of event would allow the entire family to be involved - which was a big part of the message. Everyone wanted to do something to show their love.
We continue planning, not worried about colors or a specific theme. I've been struck, in our conversations, how important proper planning of even a seemingly simple event like this can be. The outcome of the event can either frighten the person into hiding, or give them access to an incredible support system in a positive manner.
So the girl who used to not "care what people thought" (and in some ways, still doesn't) has learned to control what people see to shape their perceptions. I'm still the same girl - much like the the event above still has the same people involved - but everything in my life has been adjusted according to the story I'm trying to tell about my life.
What does the look and feel of your life say? How much of it is intentionally designed?
As someone once said to me, "You can't control other people's perception, but you can control what they see to perceive."