Positive Design

Positive design is the deliberate process of designing with the intention of supporting sustainable human flourishing in individuals and communities.

Flourishing comes from experiences of positive emotions, meaning, engagement and purpose in life leading to high satisfaction with life. Designing for happiness creates opportunities for individuals to participate in positive and meaningful experiences (Hassenzahl et al., 2013) that fulfil psychological needs such as competence, relatedness and autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

The positive design framework put forward by Desmet and Pohlmeyer (2013) combines elements of positive psychology and design theory and highlights the importance of three key aspects of subjective well-being – pleasure, personal significance and virtue when designing a product.

Positive Design Framework (Desmet & Pohlmeyer, 2013)

While each of these aspects independently contribute to subjective well-being, consideration of all three supports human flourishing and results in a positive design. Importantly, not all three aspects need be addressed in the same depth by a product, but none may have a detrimental impact on another.  

Active user involvement is central to the success of positive design and while it is acknowledged that the physical appearance and materials used to make an item influences the user experience, the meaningful positive opportunities the item provides the user are more important.

An example of design for pleasure and the specific experience of pride by Owusu (2012) is ‘Recordis’ below:

Taken from Desmet & Pohlmeyer (2013)

Much in the same way as with positive psychology interventions (PPIs), personal fit must be considered within positive design, and awareness of user needs and context is important. Providing a user centric experience and the option to customise a product may increase its relevance to a wider audience.

Looking to the future, there are many exciting opportunities for positive design to be incorporated into everyday products, our architecture, public parks, workplaces, community centres etc. Positive design could also inform the development of new or existing PPIs and help to integrate them more sustainably into daily life.

The deliberate process of designing with the intention of supporting sustainable human flourishing in individuals and communities will create more opportunities for us to participate in positive and meaningful experiences.  The challenge will be how we can incorporate this into the design process and make it the norm.

Thanks for reading!

Further reading

Desmet, P., & Pohlmeyer, A. (2013). Positive Design: An Introduction to Design for Subjective Well-Being. International Journal of Design, 7(3), 5–19.

Hassenzahl, M., Eckoldt, K., Diefenbach, S., Laschke, M., Lenz, E., & Kim, J. (2013). Designing Moments of Meaning and Pleasure. Experience Design and Happiness. International Journal of Design, 7, 21–31.

Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2001). On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being. Annual Review Psychology, 52, 141–166.

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