Designing happiness: projects that just want to make you happy

In addition to being a tool for well-being, design can be first and foremost an opportunity to achieve happiness through the right to imagination.

The idea that design is geared toward maximizing well-being is something everyone should agree upon – or so we believe. Whether to satisfy a necessity through an object, or to do so more efficiently, ergonomically, harmoniously, or fashionably, design has always served human needs, be it through visionary efforts of anticipation or consumerist acceleration.

The relationship between design and happiness, which is well-being’s next of kin, is certainly more elusive. Creating a happy object may seem hard or difficult to frame and define. After all, what is happiness design supposed to do? Respond to a desire? Indulge a virtue? Promote play? Encourage optimism? Or, following neuroscience, satisfy our hormonal urges, like the bursts of dopamine – the pleasure hormone – that get us likes on social media

Read also: Michele de Lucchi on Vittoriano Viganò’s Marchiondi: education and happiness

Yet, there has been a shift in recent years. Indeed, design seems to be engaging with happiness in a more committed and direct way. It does so explicitly, through objects as well as research, reflections or exhibitions, either when happiness becomes an explicit domain of research – think of Stefan Sagmaister’s case – or when, with increasing frequency, the design sphere is concerned – jokingly but also not quite – with creating a nourished array of sexual pleasure tools, sex toys.

It does so by improving our urban environment, focusing on color as a tool that can cheer us up and create community. Or by reminding us of the importance of movement, of unleashing the body’s energies as a way to bring joy and fulfillment. At a time when the search for happiness is being made explicit by new generations and public debate – think of the proposed revision of the Italian Constitution to include a right to happiness – will design know how to develop its own Gross National Happiness Index? Perhaps we should be pleased that it succeeds in stimulating the impulses of our imagination, knowing that this alone may be enough to happily fulfill its role.

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