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Towards Happiness: Possibility-Driven Design

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This chapter suggests possibility-driven design as an alternative to the common problem-driven approach. A first part explores the concept of "possibilities" and how it relates to happiness and well-being. We further develop the notion of designing for the pleasurable life and the good life through a number of exemplary design cases. Each takes a possibility-driven approach, thereby highlighting potential challenges and merits. By that, we hope to lay ground for an approach to design, which draws upon happiness to motivate the design of future technologies. This will help establishing a culture of humane innovation, which understands technology as a possibility to improve life directly.
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Towards happiness:
Possibility-driven design
Pieter Desmet
Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology
Marc Hassenzahl
User Experience and Ergonomics, Faculty of Design, Folkwang University of Arts
Abstract
This chapter suggests possibility-driven design as an alternative to the common
problem-driven approach. A first part explores the concept of "possibilities" and
how it relates to happiness and well-being. We further develop the notion of de-
signing for the pleasurable life and the good life through a number of exemplary
design cases. Each takes a possibility-driven approach, thereby highlighting poten-
tial challenges and merits. By that, we hope to lay ground for an approach to de-
sign, which draws upon happiness to motivate the design of future technologies.
This will help establishing a culture of humane innovation, which understands
technology as a possibility to improve life directly.
From problems to possibilities
Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), interaction design, and industrial design
mostly favour a problem-driven approach to design (see Roozenburg & Eekels,
1995). It understands design as an activity focused on removing problems (i.e., to
make something easier, cleaner, cheaper, safer or smaller), often motivated by
very concrete discrepancies between the current and a seemingly ideal way of do-
ing something. The aspiration is to make the world a better place through solving
its problems.
A typical example is the do-it-yourself soccer ball made from adhesive tape de-
signed by Marti Guixe (see Figure 1).
2
Fig. 1. Marti Guixe's Football Tape (photo courtesy of Project H Design).
It is featured in Emily Pilloton's (2009) recent book Design Revolution in
which she discusses 100 products intended to "empower people" and to make "the
case for design as a tool to solve some of the world’s biggest social problems in
beautiful, sustainable and engaging ways." While admirable for the will to go be-
yond a purely commercial approach to design, the example of Guixe's Football
Tape is revealing. The ball's ultimate value stems from the game of soccer; the
ball in itself only enables the game for those people, who have no access to a
"real" ball. The ball is merely a substitute, a "hygiene factor." Without the fascina-
tion for soccer as a driving force, it would be without value. Thus, it solves a prob-
lem no access to a ball. But the happiness itself stems from the physical and so-
cial experience of a good game of soccer, not from the ball made of adhesive tape.
At first glance, it seems pedantic to dissociate problem-solving and well-being
in this fashion. Many great solutions to prevailing problems, from sliced bread to
high-speed trains, aim at making our lives more comfortable and, thus, better.
Mobile phones, for example, provide a multitude of tools to make communication
ubiquitous and more reliable, to avoid getting lost, to plan a day, to remember
things, we should not forget all very helpful and practical, all solutions to pre-
vailing problems. However, there is an implicit notion underlying this problem-
driven approach, which Hassenzahl (2010, p.28) called the "disease model of hu-
man technology use." Problem-driven design focuses on "curing diseases," that is,
removing prevailing problems, instead of directly focusing on what makes us
happy.
3
Desmet (2010) describes problem-driven design as the mere attempt to "keep
the demons asleep." People's concerns, values, and needs are the sleeping demons,
awoken only when the situation poses a threat to their fulfilment, resulting in
negative emotions like fear and anger (see Frijda, 1986). People are not aware of
their concern for safety, until the fire alarm sets off (resulting in fear); and people
are not aware of their concern for respect, until they discover to be the topic of
heartless work floor gossip (resulting in shame or anger). In their daily lives, peo-
ple encounter all kinds of situations that awaken concerns, and a lot of the prod-
ucts that we buy and use are created to "put these awoken concerns back to sleep."
Typical examples are products from the category of tele-homecare. They picture
their users as patients; people who are ill and need help. Bosch's Health Buddy
(Figure 2) is such a tele-homecare product. It is a tabletop device that asks the pa-
tient a series of questions at periodic intervals about topics such as how they feel,
their eating habits, and their medication. The answers are sent to a service center
and accessed by a doctor using a web browser to track progress and detect poten-
tial problems.
Fig 2. Bosch's Health Buddy.
Tele-homecare products guard patients by medical monitoring and, if needed,
assistance from the distance. Primarily, this takes the pressure off the healthcare
system by increasing the ability of people to manage on their own. In the long-run,
enabling patients to stay at home instead of spending time in a hospital may con-
tribute to their well-being. While the benefits of "staying at home" appear to be a
rather emotion-laden and complex issue, tele-homecare products avoid this mess
by almost exclusively focusing on facilitating the patient-doctor relationship. They
seem to solve practical problems of the healthcare system rather than reflecting on
the feelings and needs of "patients." To explore possibilities for developing new
tele-homecare products, Marise Schot and colleagues (2009) explicitly studied the
concerns around "being a patient at home." When people become ill, their ever y-
4
day life changes dramatically; they are no longer able to do many of the things,
they were used to do. They lose autonomy and opportunities for social exchange.
One of these concerns, which arise but are not put back to sleep by existing tele-
homecare products, was "making a contribution to the local community." Based
on this concern gap, Marise Schot designed the Radio Contact service (Figure 3).
Fig. 3: Marise Schot's Radio Contact.
Radio Contact involves a daily radio broadcast in which people can invite oth-
ers to contribute to all kinds of community projects. By offering and making pub-
lic a wide variety of projects, even people with momentary limitations due to their
illness can find projects they can contribute to within their range of possibilities.
While patients may lose some of their regular opportunities to contribute because
of their illness, this new service enables them to fulfill their need to contribute by
becoming part of a new local network.
Although taking a slightly different perspective, Marise Schott's general ap-
proach is still one of solving a problem to put a demon back to sleep with
some considerate reflection on which demon to address. Problem-driven design is,
thus, primarily about avoiding, solving, or neutralizing the negative, the moment it
arises. However, avoiding the negative (i.e., the absence of a problem) must not
necessarily equal a positive experience. Following according debates in psychol-
ogy (e.g., Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) Seligman (2008) recently made the
point in the domain of medicine and health by quoting the preamble of the consti-
tution of the World Health Organization from 1946: "Health is a state of complete
positive physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of dis-
ease or infirmity." In this view, curing a problem enables the transition from a
negative to a neutral state. The transition from neutral to positive may require an
5
approach beyond mere problem-solving. What we need are ways to address well-
being directly through design and not only indirectly through the management of
"hygiene" or "enabling" factors. There is simply a difference between, for exam-
ple, facilitating well-being indirectly through a more functional kitchen and the di-
rect joy from a family gathering that takes place in that kitchen. A design ap-
proach which taps into the latter will have a much more immediate potential to
result in worthwhile designs, which make people happy.
Fig. 4. Oscar Pistorius (photo courtesy of Elvar Freyr).
Accordingly, we propose a possibility rather than problem-driven approach to
design to unlock its full potential of contributing to human flourishing. A first ex-
ample is leg prosthetics. Traditionally, prosthetics are developed within the “dis-
ease model” of technology: having two human legs is viewed as the ideal situa-
tion, not having them as a "problem." As a consequence, prosthetics often aim at
fully imitating the function and especially the appearance of the ideal situation
real legs. Letting go of this problem-focused approach, however, enabled Össur to
develop revolutionary carbon fiber limbs, Cheetah Flex-Foot, which do not imi-
tate human legs and have been made famous by international athletes like Oscar
Pistorius (aka the Blade Runner, Figure 4). Instead of understanding the absence
6
of legs as primarily a problem to be solved, the designers used a seemingly prob-
lematic situation as a possibility to explore material and technology to create a
new type of leg. For a while, these legs where even considered better than natural
one's, which led to Pistorius being ruled ineligible for competitions, including the
2008 Summer Olympics a decision reversed later.
Although the FlexFoot successfully turned a problem into a possibility, it is
still very much rooted in an anomaly the absence of legs. But a possibility-
driven design aims for more it may create products, objects, devices without re-
ferring to any problem, but still rooted in human practice and needs. An example
from the domain of electronic products is Bandai's Tamagotchi (Figure 5).
Fig. 5. Tamagotchi (photo courtesy Tomasz Sienicki)
The egg-shaped device represents a Tamagotchi, a little creature, which hatches
from an egg when switching on the device for the first time. From then on, one
must raise the Tamagotchi, feed it, play games with it, keep it healthy, clean it,
punish and praise it. If left unattended, it will soon die. The Tamagotchi was a cult
in the mid 90ties of the last century, with an ongoing revival since 2004. It
spawned a number of games following the same basic principle, ranging from
Will Wright's Sims published in 2000 to Sony's recent EyePets. The Tamagotchi
does not solve a problem, but appeals to the basic psychological need of related-
ness (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and the associated interest in nurturing, care, and en-
joyment created by taking on responsibility. This is similar to what is behind the
enjoyment from having pets or from indulging in recreational gardening. A Tama-
gotchi is a possibility, an alternative way of fulfilling an ever-present need.
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Obviously, at least in hindsight a Tamagotchi could also be framed as a solu-
tion to a problem, namely to relieve loneliness. One may argue that a possibility is
nothing more than a problem on a more abstract level. We disagree. Relatedness,
the need primarily addressed by the Tamagotchi, is sufficient and meaningful in
itself. A technology that addresses relatedness will be, thus, meaningful, too. Now
there are plenty of ways to satisfy relatedness, some more viable for certain people
than others. As a result, people may prefer plants over pets or virtual pets over real
ones. Or just have all the alternatives side by side. In other words, pets do not pri-
marily solve a problem. It is just enjoyable to have them because they address im-
portant human needs. Nevertheless, pets can help people in difficult situations to
overcome their loneliness. But the very same people would vehemently object, if
one tells them that their loneliness is the primary reason for caring. As Daniel
Miller (2008) puts it in The Comfort of Things: "The relationship between a person
and their pet is hard to characterize with the respect it actually demands. It can be
embarrassing enough to talk about the love between people, let alone about what
we mean exactly when we talk about the love for an animal" (p. 107). Imagine
your spouse declaring that she is your partner only because this solves the problem
of loneliness for both of you. There might be a little more to love than this. The
Tamagotchi is not a solution but a new way to craft technology to create a mean-
ingful, fulfilling experience. Just for the sake of it.
There is an increasing interest in a possibility-driven approach to design, both
with a focus on the pleasurable life and the good life. This interest is either reflect-
ed in a broad focus on pleasure and enjoyment (e.g., Jordan, 2000) aka (positive)
emotions (e.g., Desmet, 2002; Norman, 2004, Desmet et al., 2007) as a design
goal, the largely overlapping recent experiential approaches to design (e.g.,
McCarthy & Wright, 2004; Hassenzahl, 2010), ludic design (Gaver, 2002), critical
design (Dunne, 2006) or attempts to put self-improvement in the fore (Zimmer-
man, 2009). All these approaches primarily address humans, their experiences,
joys and misfortunes and emphasize possibilities for new ways of happiness rather
than the removal of problems. Admittedly, there is no definite process to design
for happiness, yet, but academics and practitioners alike seem to feel an urge to
stress human-oriented design approaches even more.
In the remainder of the chapter, we will explore the concept of happiness as a
basis for possibility-driven design, and present a number of exemplary design cas-
es illustrating and discussing the challenges of happiness as a design goal and
"possibilities" as key to reach this goal.
8
Happiness
Happiness is one of the major, if not the ultimate goal, for every human being.
For example, Ed Diener and Eunkook Suh (1999) reported that college students all
over the world rate happiness as very or extremely important. Laura King and
Sheri Broyles (1997) invited people to make three wishes for “anything at all,”
and found happiness to be the most common wish. In other words, a happy life is
highly desirable (King & Napa, 1998).
To be happy is a quality in itself and a lot of research has been devoted to in-
dentify the conditions for, and the causes of, happiness. Moreover, in the last
years, several beneficial consequences of happiness have been empirically demon-
strated. Sonja Lyubormisky, Laura King, and Ed Diener (2005) showed that happy
people are successful in many life domains and that these successes are at least in
part due to their happiness. Happy people are more social, altruistic, active, like
themselves and others more, have strong bodies and immune systems, and better
conflict resolution skills. Moreover, happiness promotes constructive and creative
thinking. In short, happy people are healthier, more successful, and contribute
more to the lives of others.
Given all these positive consequences of happiness it seems only natural to
make it the major objective for design. To do so, designers need to find answers to
questions such as: what causes happiness? How can people become happier? Can
we deliberately make them happier? Although answers to these questions are fun-
damental to our understanding of human functioning and flourishing, empirical re-
search in the social and behavioral sciences on happiness is a rather recent phe-
nomenon (Larsen & Eid, 2008). This phenomenon finally led to of the new
discipline of psychology called Positive Psychology briefly mentioned in the pre-
vious section. Researchers working in this field argue that happiness has an affec-
tive and a cognitive component. The affective component is the balance of nega-
tive versus positive affect experienced on a day-to-day basis an individual's
cumulated ratio of positive to negative affect (Larsen & Prizmic, 2006). The cog-
nitive component is the amount of global satisfaction individuals express with
their lives (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). In other words, a happy person is
feeling good most of the time (i.e., experiences frequent positive emotions, like
joy and affection, and only little negative emotions) and is satisfied with life. An
unhappy person is feeling bad most of the time (i.e., experiences frequent negative
emotions like anger and anxiety, and little positive emotions) and is dissatisfied
with life.
A challenge for those who want to increase their happiness is that there is no
single determinant of happiness. In fact, Ed Diener compared happiness to a recipe
(in Larsen & Eid, 2008). Most good recipes call for several ingredients. Some in-
9
gredients are essential; others merely add a particular flavor or texture to the dish.
Take a good risotto. It needs rice, onions, garlic, wine, parmesan, butter, and many
other things. Rice is essential, but a risotto can be tasty without deglazing the
braised onions and rice with the wine. And obviously, it is also not the rice alone,
which creates a wonderful risotto. One needs a number of ingredients put together
in the right way. The same holds true for happiness there are several crucial in-
gredients, none of them alone sufficient to make a person happy.
Within the broad context of research on happiness, two views, that is, "recipes,"
of happiness have been identified and labeled after Aristotle’s (350 B.C.E./1998
C.E.) classical distinction between Hedonism and Eudaimonia: The hedonic view
focuses on happiness that stems from savoring life’s pleasures. This requires an
ability to enjoy beautiful sunsets, a delicious meal, a warm bath and good compa-
ny. Hedonic happiness arises from the experience of positive feelings, per se. It
involves not only the pursuit of activities that are pleasurable, but also the pursuit
of one’s ability to truly enjoy these activities. In other words, becoming happier
does not necessarily require more pleasurable activities, but can also be realized
by taking more pleasure in our activities.
In contrast, the eudaimonic, or virtue-based, view focuses on happiness that
stems from the fulfillment through engaging in meaningful activity and the actual-
ization of one’s true potential (e.g. Deci & Ryan, 2000). This requires an ability to
identify meaningful life goals, and to attain them. People, who strive for some-
thing personally significant, whether it is learning a new craft, changing careers,
or raising moral children, are happier than those who do not have stro ng dreams or
aspirations. Meaningful goals provide direction, raison d’être. Committed goal
pursuit provides a sense of purpose and a feeling of control over our lives. The
process of working towards a goal, participating in a valued and challenging activ-
ity, is as important to well-being as its attainment itself. Meaningful goals connect
abstract values, such as being autonomous or feeling related, to everyday activi-
ties. Examples are: developing a drawing talent, contributing to the lives of others,
bringing joy to people through music, raising children in the best possible way. Ed
Diener and Eunkook Suh (1999) proposed that effective meaningful goals involve
approaching a desirable outcome (as opposed to avoiding an undesirable out-
come), and enable a person to continually experience new challenges, take on new
opportunities, and have a variety of experiences. In that sense, meaningful goals
are possibilities rather than problems solved.
While Hedonism simply recommends identifying and enjoying the enjoyable,
Eudaimonia takes a more normative stance. It prescribes ways of living in the
world, which eventually lead to fulfillment and, thus, happiness, but may not be
common practice or at least may not be easy to implement. It may need an "inter-
vention," that is, making someone doing something, she might not normally en-
gage in, to make her happier. Remember, one of the determinants of happiness in
10
the hedonic sense is the balance between experienced positive affect (PA) and
negative affect (NA). A classic theory is the Hedonic Treadmill theory, originally
proposed by Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell (1971). This theory suggests
that people adapt to both good and bad events and return, over time, to their he-
donic set point. For example, after an extremely good event, such as marrying the
person of his or her dreams, a person initially reacts with strong PA but eventually
adapts and returns to his or her baseline level of PA. A similar adaption process
occurs for negative events. A person reacts to a bad event with strong NA but
eventually adapts and returns to his or her baseline level of NA. A particular ruth-
less quality of the Hedonic Treadmill is that negative events produce relatively
more intense and longer-lasting affective reactions than positive events: we adapt
more quickly to good events than to bad events (Brickman et al., 1978). However,
in a recent review of the Hedonic Treadmill, Ed Diener and colleagues (2006)
proposed that adaptation is not nearly as inevitable or automatic as is implied by
the original theory. The rate and extent of adaptation to various events show wide
variability across individuals, and there are opportunities to "overcome" the He-
donic Treadmill by employing strategies that stimulate cognitive reappraisals, that
is, re-thinking a given situation. Given this premise, researchers have introduced
and validated a variety of strategies to increase happiness. But although widely
available in literature and validated to be useful, not many people seem to pick up
those strategies by implementing them into their daily lives. Comprehension is one
thing; action another. Here is an opportunity for design, by seducing, stimulating,
or challenging people to overcome the Hedonic Treadmill and other barriers to
their happiness through designed interventions. An example for is Martin Selig-
man and colleagues' (2005) "gratitude visit": Participants had one week to write
and deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone, who had been especially
kind to them but had never been properly thanked. In fact, this simple exercise led
to a significant increase in happiness directly after the exercise (compared to a
placebo control group), which then lasted for a month. While these kinds of activi-
ties make us happy at least for a while it requires some external impulse to ac-
tually do it. This is typical for eudaimonic happiness. The hedonic is more obvious
to us and much easier to implement.
The distinction between Hedonism and Eudaimonia is sometimes referred to as
"the pleasurable life versus the good life." Note that the distinction is artificial: A
good life is also a pleasurable life. Aristotle, himself, saw pleasure as an integral
part of eudaimonic living in the sense of an outcome and the more recent research
literature is rife with examples of how Eudaimonia and Hedonics intertwine
(King, 2008). Many aspects of the meaningful life (e.g. warm relationships with
others, personal mastery) are strong sources of enjoyment and hedonic pleasure.
For possibility-driven design, however, the "pleasurable-life/hedonism" versus
"good-life/eudaimonia" distinction is useful. We may need two different strategies
to design for happiness through identifying new possibilities. One is to design for
11
hedonics, the "pleasurable life." This implies the design of products that become
direct sources of pleasure by creating or mediating pleasurable experiences rooted
in human values and evidently pleasurable activities.
The other is to design for the good life. This implies the design of products that
represent meaningful, but maybe non-obvious goals and help people attaining
those goals. The following section seeks to further pinpoint some crucial aspects
of designing for possibilities, the pleasurable and the good life, by presenting and
discussing example projects and outcomes.
Designing for happiness
Design needs a starting point, an idea, a seed to nourish and grow. While a
problem-driven approach takes a problem as a start, a possibility-driven approach
looks out for a possibility. Importantly, this possibility must be rooted in our
knowledge of happiness, in human practice and human needs. Only too easily, a
technology alone might be understood as a possibility.
Design can not only contribute to happiness by creating or mediating positive
experiences (the pleasurable life/hedonism), but also by stimulating people’s
awareness of their abilities to increase their happiness (the good life/eudaimonia).
Products that create or mediate positive experiences can even re-script existing
experiences to be more pleasurable. Products that increase one’s awareness, on the
other hand, will challenge or inspire its user to act or think in a different, bus as-
sumingly better way. In the following, we will discuss both approaches.
Objects for the Pleasurable Life
A first example of a project rather looking for possibilities is the Travel Experi-
ences project, supervised by the second author and Matthias Laschke, and carried
out in cooperation with the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail). The Bahn as an organi-
zation stresses the instrumentality of transportation. It focuses on speed and time-
liness in short: efficiency. Many activities of the Bahn attempt to repair discrep-
ancies between the seemingly ideal state of zero time needed for travel and the
current state (about 100km/h on average). While attaining the ideal state is futile
(at least with currently available technology), this approach blatantly ignores the
positive experiences people can have in trains and while travelling in general it
employs a "disease model" of travelling.
12
In his TED talk Life lessons from an Ad Man
(http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_ma
n.html), Rory Sutherland made fun of this:
"Here is one example. This is a train which goes from London to Paris. The question was
given to a bunch of engineers, about 15 years ago, "How do we make the journey to Paris
better?" And they came up with a very good engineering solution, which was to spend six
billion pounds building completely new tracks from London to the coast, and knocking
about 40 minutes off a three-and-half-hour journey time. Now, call me Mister Picky. I'm
just an ad man ... ... but it strikes me as a slightly unimaginative way of improving a train
journey merely to make it shorter. Now what is the hedonic opportunity cost on spending
six billion pounds on those railway tracks? Here is my naive advertising man's suggestion.
What you should in fact do is employ all of the world's top male and female supermodels,
pay them to walk the length of the train, handing out free Chateau Petrus for the entire
duration of the journey. Now, you'll still have about three billion pounds left in change,
and people will ask for the trains to be slowed down. [...] this shows that engineers,
medical people, scientific people, have an obsession with solving the problems of reality"
Sutherland turns travelling from a problem to a possibility admittedly with a
debatable mixture of beauty and alcohol. But while the How remains a matter of
style, the general message is clear: one can have fun with travelling; it is not just a
problem.
To explore potential enjoyments, we started to collect positive travel experi-
ences through interviews in trains or other places, through an online-
questionnaire and the interest-based, unstructured exploration of available infor-
mation on travelling, such as travel reports, novels, train-related websites and so
on. The result was a repository of positive experiences short narratives, true sto-
ries which could be further analyzed to better understand the underlying mecha-
nism. We call this mechanism an "experience pattern" (Hassenzahl, 2010, pp.70).
It is a potential, a possibility to make people happy at least in the small. Obvi-
ously, collecting and analyzing is central to almost any systematic approach to de-
sign. But, only rarely these approaches focus on positive stories as a starting point.
Much more common is a focus on problems, barriers and gaps to a seemingly
ideal state.
Yuki Ishiguro collected an interesting story: "Joe, 27 years, student, uses the
train regularly. One day, he forgot his book. Sitting there with nothing much to do,
he started to listen into other travellers conversations. Some were really interest-
ing. Joe tried to remain inconspicuous and felt the positive, adventurous excite-
ment of doing something pleasant, but slightly suspect." Yuki called the underly-
ing pattern the Voyeur. The enjoyment of the Voyeur has many sources: the
interesting stories embedded in the overheard conversation, the potential of new,
interesting insights into other people's lives, and doing something slightly suspect,
a lust to transgress. In fact, other students gathered similar stories, adhering to the
same pattern. In addition, a previous project on experience design together with
Joonhwan Kim and his team from Samsung identified the Voyeur as a possibility
13
to stimulate people. An example story was: "Marc is in a café. He has an appoint-
ment with his wife, but she is already late. At the next table a couple is discussing
their relationship problems. It is so interesting! Marc turns away slightly, grabs a
magazine and pretends to read to avoid any attention. In fact, he listens in and en-
joys the couple's discussion. When his wife arrives, he tells her what he just did
(she frowns slightly) and presents an exciting, half-true version of what he had
heard." Note the precondition, a lack of stimulation, which appeared to be impor-
tant in Yuki's story as well (Joe forgot his book, Marc is waiting). This hints at the
underlying need for stimulation, which the Voyeur addresses. We argued else-
where that experience patterns need to resonate. Resonance is a feeling of "recog-
nition" and affirmation by other people (Hassenzahl et al., 2010, p. 71). Ask your-
self: do you enjoy a bit of mild voyeurism now and then. You don't have to
answer, we know you do.
The Voyeur is a possibility, a blueprint experience, which can be re-told
through an object. Yuki envisioned Wo-Hör, a type of on-board entertainment sys-
tem. Each double-seat row has a microphone and an earpiece (see Figure 6).
Fig. 6. Yuki Ishiguro's Wo-Hör.
Turning the earpiece results in randomly zapping through the seat rows, with
those nearby excluded. The chord of the earpiece is relatively short to create a vo-
yeuristic posture while listening-in, similar to looking through a peephole. The
moment a microphone is activated, that is, someone listen in, it opens visibly to
the ones overheard. They can stop others to listen in by manually closing the mi-
crophone through a slight touch on one of its petals. The system then takes care
14
that this microphone is not activated for a certain period of time. If the "voyeur"
stops to listen in, the microphone closes again.
Wo-Hör is an interesting example. It does not primarily solve a problem, but
offers an alternative way of passing time in a train. (However, so me may argue
that boredom is the problem solved.). It takes a "found" story as its starting point,
extracts the pattern, contextualises it, that is, adapts it to the context of a train, and
significantly re-scripts it. The re-scripting is an act of Experience Design (Hassen-
zahl, 2010). At first, the concept appears as an invasion to privacy. A closer look
reveals how carefully Yuki addressed this topic. Other than in the real story, the
people overheard remain anonymous. This focuses the voyeur on the story told
and not on the people who tell the story. In turn, to listen in becomes more public,
because it requires to pick-up the earpiece. Through the visible opening of the mi-
crophone, to be overheard becomes more explicit for the one to be overheard. This
allows for better control and introduces a "reflective" element. People overheard
could craft stories to keep the voyeur engaged. All these were deliberate design
decisions made by Yuki to create an enjoyable and meaningful experience through
a technology.
Other examples aiming at creating a positive experience are the Show-Off
Gloveby Dorothea Facchini, and the Kaleidoscope Cooking Pots by Rosie Pau-
lissen. Both products were part of a project, which asked twenty design students to
design a product that makes the dinner routine more pleasurable (supervised by
the first author and Erdem Demir). Each student worked with a different user.
Again, the focus was not to solve apparent problems in a dinner routine, but to
find possibilities of enhancing and re-scripting the Status-Quo.
Fig 7. Sinan and his compressed lunch in the box.
15
Dorothea’s "user" was Sinan, a Turkish master student. Sinan enjoys having
lunch with his two best friends, making it the social event of the day. Because all
three dislike the university canteen food, they take turns in preparing lunch and
dinner. Upon his turn, Sinan makes sure to prepare more than enough food. Al-
though he does not seem to particularly enjoy preparing lunch, Dorothea found his
cooking routine to involve little moments of pleasure. These are moments in
which he can display his physical strength, a hint of muscular comradeship. For
example, he enjoys squeezing lemons with his bare hands or makes a show of how
much he can eat. He also enjoys to force-fit the food into the Tupperware box
(Figure 7). All this adds an element of playful competition to the lunch experi-
ence.
Fig 8. Dorothea Facchini's Show-Off Glove
Based on this, Dorothea designed an object adding pleasure by addressing Si-
nan's joy for the display of nonchalant masculinity. The resulting product, the
Show-Off Glove (Figure 8), enables Sinan to scoop and serve hot food directly
from the cooking pot. It is made of heat resistant silicone and has an integrated
cup with a concave surface that enables him to put sauce or dip on top of the
served food. The glove isn’t enjoyable in itself, but it enables an enjoyable action:
using the hand to scoop and serve hot food. It is a simple idea that does not solve a
problem; it merely provides pleasure through a new possibility for action.
16
The Kaleidoscope Cooking Pots came from the same project. The "user" was
Sue, a young Japanese woman who usually cooks for herself and eats alone. When
taking a look at Sue’s dinner situation, Rosie noticed her practical and goal-
oriented cooking behaviour. When cooking, all she seems to care about is the end
result: her dinner. The preparation itself is not something she enjoys. She finds it
too time consuming. In addition, Sue does not seem to recognize her own creative
cooking skills. She believes that she always prepares the same simple and boring
meals. However, through observation, Rosie noticed that Sue prepares a variety of
different meals using a wide selection of fresh ingredients. Like Sinan, Sue found
little general pleasure in cooking. However, there are things she enjoys: Cutting
the vegetables in very small pieces, making a nice visual presentation of the food
on the plate, paying attention to colours and shapes.
Rosie set out to make cooking enjoyable for Sue by using the appearance of the
food. This resulted in a set of cooking pots that add a touch of visual magic. The
pots have polygon shapes and mirroring inner surfaces. As soon as ingredients are
added to the pot, a kaleidoscopic effect appears. Adding ingredients results in an
explosion of shape and colour (Figure 9).
Fig 9. Rosie Paulissen's Kaleidoscope Cooking Pots.
17
Shapes and colours are multiplied and magnified, and the patterns, shapes, and
colours keep changing, when stirring the food. This will add a new layer to Sue'
cooking experience, prompting her to play around with the aesthetics of cooking,
instead of just viewing it as a mere instrumental action.
The Show-Off Glove and the Kaleidoscope Cooking Pots illustrate that pleas-
ures are personal: different people have different dinner routines, which call for
different possibilities. Designers need to understand both, dinner routines and the
possible sources for pleasure. Sue would probably not find that much pleasure in
scooping food with her hands from the pot, just like Sinan may not enjoy the ka-
leidoscopic effects of the cooking pans. At the same time, we may try to find more
universal sources of pleasure by looking at groups of people that share something,
like being a patient as in the Radio Contact example, or riding a train as in the Wo-
Hör example.
Such an example of a more general pleasure from the Deutsche Bahn project is
Gary Kunkel and Bartosch Cylkowski's Daydream (see Figure 10).
Fig. 10. Gary Kunkel and Bartosch Cylkowski's Daydream (video still).
Gary and Bartosch observed that people use time in trains for contemplation.
People rest their heads against the side of the train, typically with a jacket or
something similar as support and cushion and watch the landscape flying by, sa-
vouring sights, speed and rhythm of the train just like in Kraftwerk's Europa
Endless. Gary and Bartosch decided to enhance this experience, to make it even
more hedonic, by designing a special pillow, optimized for resting the head
against the side of the train or even the window. In addition, this pillow contained
a loudspeaker. While in use, it plays back ambient sounds, which match elements
of the landscape passing by. For example, forest-like sounds when the train passes
a forest, bubbly sounds when it follows a river. This general soundscape is inter-
spersed with more specific sounds, such as church bells, when passing a church or
monastery. This creates the impression as if one can listen to the landscape behind
the train's windows. However, instead of real sounds filtering through from the
18
outside, the user is presented with a softened version of reality designed to make
contemplation even better.
Obviously, all concepts presented here need empirical exploration and further
research. While grounded in meaningful, positive stories, Wo-Hör, Show-Off
Glove, Kaleidoscopic Cooking Pots or Daydream at least appear very different
to the devices, we currently know and use on a daily basis. We view this as inher-
ent to the possibility-driven approach. Or to put it differently: our current under-
standing of technology and its design is still firmly and most of the time implicitly
based on the notion of solving problems. A different approach, will lead to diffe r-
ent products, which may appear outlandish at first. Current research in consumer
choice helps us understanding this phenomenon. Christopher Hsee and Reid
Hastie (2006) presented a number of reasons, why a decision (i.e., the evaluation
of an object) may differ from its experience: "Why don't we choose what makes us
happy?" is their key question. One particular interesting phenomenon is what they
call "lay rationalism" (see Hsee et al., 2003; and Diefenbach & Hassenzahl, 2009
for an application to the domain of technology). Hsee and Hastie (2006, p. 33)
state: "Decision-makers strive to be rational [...] but, paradoxically, the desire for
rationality can lead to less rational decisions. When decision-makers try to 'do the
rational thing', it can prevent them from choosing what they predict to be experi-
entially optimal." In one of their experiments, people got the choice between a
small piece (worth $0,50) of chocolate in the shape of a heart or a larger (worth
$2) in the shape of a cockroach. The majority of people took the cockroach, al-
though they predicted the heart to be more enjoyable. A deeply ingrained norm of
maximisation trumps people's experiential needs. A similar notion may work
against a possibility-driven approach to design. Because of this, concept exem-
plars, their study and discussion become a crucial element of developing design
for happiness.
Objects for the Good Life
An example of a design that specifically is about creating interventions that
stimulate people to adopt happiness strategies, is the Tinytask project by Hans
Ruitenberg and the first author (2010). The central question was: Can strategies
for subjective well-being be translated into or supported by tangible designs that
inspire and persuade people to adopt these strategies into their daily lives? Hence,
the aim was not to provide pleasurable experiences, but to increase the users’
awareness of their ability to formulate and attain meaningful life goals as a source
of happiness.
Tinytask is a system that offers novel experiences to attain happiness. By com-
pleting small and concrete assignments, users have many new experiences that can
19
help them in finding out what makes them happy. Physical tokens that represent
the commitment to an assignment are carried by the users and given away once the
assignment has been completed. Users can collect the tokens as rewards and subtle
reminders of their achievements.
Fig 11. Hans Ruitenberg's Tinytask.
Users subscribe to Tinytask and receive a set of six key chains that contain
small and concrete assignments related to twelve happiness strategies. Examples
of these strategies are "practicing acts of kindness" and "avoiding over thinking."
Each strategy was translated into a number of concrete possible activities one
could engage in. Users commit to the assignments by adding the key chain to their
key ring. The key chain has an oval shape and features two holes that intend to in-
20
trigue the user by enabling secondary usage (e.g. collecting them on a chain). The
front of every key chain contains a poetic description of the assignment. The back
shows a smiling face, a marker, and tinytask.nl. After receiving the key chains, the
marker and poetic description prompts the user to find out more about the given
task by visiting the Tinytask website. The key chain acts as a gentle reminder each
time the user uses his keys. Further reflection may occur because of the semipub-
lic nature of the key chain: People that spot the user’s key chain may inquire about
it. Users add assignments to their profile page on tinytask.nl, confirm their com-
pletion and can add comments to reflect on the experience they made. Tinytask in-
spires and persuades people to break with routines and to engage in new activities
based on happiness strategies. This should lead to making a habit of active expe-
rimentation and reflective observation. In short: being more attentive and conside-
rate towards oneself.
A working prototype of the product/service combination was developed to test
the effects on users. Sixteen people participated in a period of six weeks. The
study showed that Tinytask had an effect on all participants. Although the number
of tasks completed varied between four and twenty-four, all participants reported
that they had become more aware of their routines and their abilities to increase
their happiness. Due to limited functionality of the website prototype, participants
could not reflect on their experiences online. However, conversations with others
in some cases elicited by the key chains caused participants to increase their
happiness awareness.
In line with the Positive Psychology movement, the Tinytask project focused on
the ability of people to increase their happiness by deliberately engaging in happi-
ness-enhancing activities. An important aspect of Tinytask is that it requires users,
who are already motivated to participate, who want to change aspects of their
lives. While Tinytask stimulates, it acknowledges the user's responsibility: People
are free to ignore the tasks, and the key chain is not designed to apply an increas-
ing sense of urgency, when being ignored.
Kai Eckoldt and Tobias Ende's Brooch (supervised by the second author and
Anke Bernotat) is another example for an object as intervention. The Brooch starts
from the simple insight, that social exchange, relatedness, is one of the key drivers
of happiness (e.g., Self-determination Theory, Ryan & Deci, 2000). The Brooch is
a mobile device, attached to the clothing (see Figure 12).
21
Fig. 12. Kai Eckoldt and Tobias Ende's Brooch.
It detects the sharp, high-pitched sound of people chinking glasses. This trig-
gers a 30 seconds sound and low-resolution video recording, which is stored in the
Brooch's internal memory. Typically this captures at least parts of a toast, voices
of the people involved, some ambient sounds, the light atmosphere, and some
dominant colours. Each new chinking replaces the previous memory. However, if
there had been no chinking for a while, the Brooch starts to rerun its last memory
now and then. This is done very unobtrusively: the sound is in low volume, the
video is played back within the Brooch, only visible through a gap running around
its edge. The active consumption of the memory affords a gesture like the one d e-
picted in Figure 12. This establishes a certain privacy when attending the memory.
Similar to Tinytask's key chains, the Brooch can be ignored. It encourages, but
does not force its users.
The Brooch's idea is to prompt future social exchange by confronting people
with (hopefully) positive memories of past social exchanges. Tinytask wants its
user to engage in meaningful activity to reflect upon their current lives. Other than
the objects rooted in happiness, which create novel delightful or meaningful ex-
periences, interventions engage its users actively in a dialog. They are "arguments
in material form" (Redström, 2006, p.116). This dialog is deliberately initiated by
the designer through the designed object. The Brooch, for example, reflects upon
the value of social exchange and people's motivation to engage in those ex-
changes. It is a materialised psychological advice: "Meet your friends, it is good
22
for you." Similar to Critical Design (Dunne, 2006), this approach believes in the
power of objects to tell stories "material tales" through their use. However,
while Critical Design aims at stimulating critical reflection per se through de-
familiarization and estrangement, our focus is on stimulating reflection upon one's
Self. The Brooch and Tinytask embody and thereby offer new ways for self-
improvement. If the advice is accepted, they further support people in their wish to
transform they are Transformational Products (Laschke et al., 2010).
Conclusion
The present chapter argues for replacing the widespread notion of problems as
starting points for design with an approach focusing on possibilities rather. Some
may view the difference as unimportant. It is not. Indeed, possibilities and prob-
lems have something in common: both are rooted in a difference between the cur-
rent state and a future state. The difference, however, is that problems focus on the
current state (rendering it as undesirable), whereas possibilities focus on the future
state. Problems are obstacles that need to be resolved to achieve a desired goal,
objective, or purpose, whereas possibilities are future prospects or potentials.
Many designers consider their work to be materializing possible futures. Hence,
pertaining a view on design as being a problem solving activity, implicitly in-
volves a perception of the future as a solved problem.
We need a more optimistic stance, because the problem-driven approach does
simply not confine itself to solve problems. It leads to a view of every day-to-day
activity in terms of a problem. Cooking, eating, shopping for groceries, cleaning,
travelling many activities with a great potential to be enjoyable are reduced to a
mere chore. Instead of celebrating, re-scripting, enhancing, and redefining travel-
ling in a train, the German Bahn primarily engages in making travelling more effi-
cient and cheaper. By that travelling in a train loses many of its joys. Instead of
finding the possibilities for joy in cooking, we often enough restrict our design ac-
tivities to new problem-solving tools in the disguise of design. This may lie at the
heart of the frivolity of objects such as Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif (see Figure
13). A tool, which does not work, is a waste. In an interview Starck once ex-
plained that his intention was to design a "conversation piece," an object to initiate
conversations for melting "icy" social situations. While we may credit Starck with
all kinds of intentions to stimulate reflection about the role of design and the no-
tion of instrumentality, his lemon squeezer does not make the point. It transforms
a problem-solving tool, a squeezer, into an admittedly beautiful problem-
inducing tool, but does not add any new possibilities. Why not making an object,
which is all about initiating a conversation? Why the need to use a non-functional
lemon squeezer as a disguise. To us, this seems to be the real waste.
23
Fig. 13. Philippe Starck's Jucy Salif (photo courtesy of Alessi).
In addition, solutions to problems tend to spawn new problems. In fact, prob-
lem-driven design tends to be a "never-ending-story." This is because any new
product with the noble aim to put a particular demon to sleep, will always awake
another demon. Design, by its very nature, not only solves but also creates prob-
lems. Figure 14 illustrates how an alarm clock, designed to prevent us from over-
sleeping, can actually make falling asleep more difficult. Hence, we need "no tic
tac."
Another classic example (discussed by Schifferstein & Desmet, 2008) is the
tram used for Belgium’s famous coastline route. In 1980 a new tram was proudly
introduced to improve the problematic "wobbly and rattling" older model. Passen-
gers indeed reported to enjoy the smooth experience of the comfortable new
trams. However, as an unexpected side-effect, records in the first year after intro-
ducing the improved tram showed a significant increase in the number of severe
tram accidents. The new problem was that the approaching tram was so silent that
pedestrians were unaware of the dangers. This example illustrates that solving
problems does not necessarily make the world a better place for the simple reason
that new designs will also introduce new problems.
24
Fig. 14. No Tic Tac.
Admittedly, at first glance Wo-Hör, the Show-Off Glove, Tinytask, or the
Brooch may appear frivolous in the face of world's challenges. In his paper on
positive health, Martin Seligman (2008) posed the crucial question: "Why, how-
ever, in a world of suffering should one bother to work on mental health, well -
being, and happiness in the first place? Perhaps in a few hundred years when
AIDS and Alzheimer's disease and suicide are all conquered, we should then turn
science to enabling well-being. Surely suffering trumps happiness […]" (p. 4). For
the domain of health, Seligman argued positive emotion, engagement, purpose,
positive relationships, positive accomplishment in short: happiness actually to
be the best prevention against mental disorder. This is different for our domain.
Wo-hör or the Show-Off Glove will never live up to tents, blankets or water purifi-
ers for the catastrophe-stricken. However, in our daily lives, apart from disaster
and suffering, problem solving became an obsession beyond the acceptable. De-
signers and engineers solve problems, which we did not know we had in the first
place, investing immense resources to liberate us from potentially enjoyable ac-
tivities framed as chores to give us time for ... yes, what actually?
So is the pursuit of happiness frivolous in the light of the world’s challenges?
We believe that this may be less so than it appears. In fact, positive design may be
crucial for facing these challenges. Remember the many positive aspects related to
happiness: happy people are more social, altruistic, active, creative, inventive,
25
open, constructive, and have better conflict resolution skills. These were proven to
be effects not causes of happiness. In fact, we need people with exactly those
qualities happy people to face the environmental, cultural, and social chal-
lenges that lie ahead. In the end, designing for happiness is not just about the indi-
vidual, not just the next level of frivolous luxuries for people who already have
access to everything they can possible dream of. In the end, designing for happi-
ness may become an important necessity to gather the strength to face all the chal-
lenges the world has in stock for us.
With this chapter, we hope to lay ground for a possibility-driven design ap-
proach, which draws upon happiness to motivate the design of future technologies.
It definitely needs more work, especially more examples, to fully explore, under-
stand and further shape its potential. However, we believe that a possibility-driven
approach, with its intimate relation to happiness, will be able to establish a culture
of humane innovation, which understands technology as a possibility to improve
life directly rather than as a mere tool to solve problems.
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... Amidst this trajectory, the moral side of technology is becoming impossible to ignore. While technology design is often oriented toward commercial values such as productivity and efficiency [60,96,150], scholars in human-computer interaction (HCI) and allied fields have for decades been researching and developing methods for orienting technology design toward essential human values such as justice, reflection and meaning [e.g., 25,37,46,90]. Of late, such discussions have entered the public discourse as well [50,103,127]. ...
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Those who have been fortunate enough to hear Ed Diener give a talk have probably heard an anecdote about the first time he informed a former graduate advisor of his interest in studying subjective well-being. An established researcher in the social psychology of deindividuation, aggression, and the like, Ed was looking for a new, more positive horizon. There it was: the little studied but important field of happiness. The response was less than enthusiastic: Who would care about such a topic? Certainly, the years since have demonstrated that his instincts were spot on. It is clear that subjective well-being has become not only a vital area of scholarly activity but also important to everyday people. Enormous amounts of scholarship have been dedicated to subjective well-being--its definition, measurement, structure, correlates, and predictors. It is fair to say (witness the present volume) that we know (and are continuing to learn) a lot about subjective well-being. My purpose in the present chapter is to consider the next step. If we know what subjective well-being is and have established that it is a good thing to have, how might we enhance subjective well-being in people's lives? Before considering this central question, two important issues warrant attention. First, should we seek to enhance subjective well-being? And second, if we should, is it possible? In reviewing some the issues in subjective well-being research and the challenges involved in trying to make real changes in subjective well-being, I hope to demonstrate that one of the key ways that subjective well-being can be changed (if, indeed, it should be changed) is to engage in a rich emotional life--to be engaged in the many facets of life--the good and the bad. It may be that engagement in life via goals allows an individual to enjoy subjective well-being in a way that is relatively free from the dangers of the hedonic treadmill (more on this later). Finally, in considering goal change and life transitions, I argue that the pursuit of happiness may be viewed as a powerful motivator of personality development. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)