Annette Ridenour founded Aesthetics; then an artist transplanted from the Bronx, NY to San Diego, CA and managing an art gallery in La Jolla. The year was 1977. An architect approached her asking to put together an arts program in a hospital, an experience that was new to her.
“I began by inviting over twenty-five artists I knew well to design artworks specifically for the hospital,” said Ridenour. “It became a transformative experience for the artists and myself as well. I was affected by the awareness that art at its deepest level could impact people’s lives who are going through a journey of healing.”
This first project inspired Ridenour to build a career in arts in health. In looking for a name for her new company, she wanted something that was descriptive of the effect of bringing arts to healthcare. The word aesthetics appealed to her because it is the study of beauty and art in all things. The other impetus for how the word Aesthetics was selected was her own personal and spiritual journey.
“In my twenties I discovered Rudolf Steiner and his philosophies of architecture, design, color, and art,” said Ridenour. “Steiner did a lot of writing about the spiritual aspects of the physical environment and art. He started many Waldorf schools in Europe and the United States. Many of them were designed for children with special needs with a deep understanding of the important role the arts has in nurturing their emotional and educational well-being through creating and being surrounded by art.”
Steiner felt that color and spirituality were deeply connected. His color theory is based on the German philosopher and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s views on color; how they are perceived in a variety of circumstances and affect our emotions. The emotional benefits of using the full spectrum of color found in nature became a founding principle for how Ridenour believed health care environments should be designed.
“As Aesthetics grew it became important to me that the art was not isolated from the physical environment and an afterthought,” said Ridenour. “The next step was to bring to the table people who understood the spiritual quality of the physical environment to form an interior design department that could support the artwork. Having an interior design department allowed us to integrate the art more fully into the hospital environment rather than just hanging it on the walls.”
At the same time, Ridenour understood that there was a lot of messaging that happens in a hospital environment, messaging about branding, aspirations, mission, vision, and values, history, and culture. As a consequence, a display department was established to address those concerns. Various focus areas within the company that addressed wayfinding, donor recognition, and history displays were developed.
Over the years, the company combined all these departments into a multi-disciplined practice that we call Customer Experience Design. The practice is based on the reality that when a person enters an environment, architecture, color, lighting, materials, art, and messaging should all work together and in harmony to support the institution’s ultimate goals.