Positive design

Happiness drives people to flourish. Research indicates that the performance of happy people can increase up to 12% whilst maintaining quality of work¹. On the other hand, people can lose up to 10% of their performance when they are unhappy¹. Thus, an employee’s subjective well-being plays a significant role in their performance, especially in the service-part of a product-service system this can have an increased impact. At the same time, consumers value the solutions offered by a product-service system better when they are happier, and vice versa when they are unhappy².


Positive design is based on design theory and positive psychology. The latter is the science that focuses on understanding what makes people happy and what makes them flourish. Research has found that happiness is determined by three factors³, and that two of these three determinants are possible to design for. 

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 Determinants of Happiness (Lyubomirsky, 2007)

Want to find out more about positive design besides the information displayed here?

Check out the Deft Institute of Positive Design or the Positive Design Reference Guide!

Positive Design Framework

Positive design is an umbrella term for design that has explicit focus on research and development of solutions that increase people’s subjective well-being, their happiness. It strives to stimulate or enhance positive emotions, and reduce or overcome negative emotions. This by engaging people’s personal character strengths and (possible future) weaknesses, and taking on evidence-based opportunities and threats as measures for a scientific design approach rather than a single designer’s perception. It is about providing solutions that helps people satisfy their growth-needs whilst taking into account their deficiency-needs. Desmet & Pohlmeyer⁴ introduced the Positive Design framework which offers a holistic overview of possible design applications for happiness. The framework consists of 3 pillars for which can be designed, namely:

Positive Design Framework (Desmet & Pohlmeyer, 2013)

Design for Pleasure

Solutions are focused on happiness that is achieved by the sum of a person’s momentary pleasures and can be derived from enhanced positive feelings or decreased negative feelings. Four types of pleasures can be distinguished: physical, social, psychological, and ideological.

Design for Personal Significance

Here it is about personal goals and aspirations of a user for a certain period or on a continuous basis. Positive affect can also be gained from achieving and remembering goals and getting a sense of accomplishment from certain behaviors. The focus here is on an individual’s interpretation of what makes life worth living and having the freedom in doing so.

Design for Virtue

Virtuous behavior is about what is perceived as good and what is perceived as bad. “It is based on the proposition that there is an ideal mode of behavior, or a sense of excellence or perfection towards which one should strive, that leads to a virtuous life.” (Desmet & Pohlmeyer, 2013, p. 9). Correct translation of believes and values into design processes can be beneficial to people’s happiness.

Besides the framework there are five characteristics to take into consideration when designing for happiness to amplify its effect. Design should be possibility-driven in a way that the solutions go beyond merely problem-solving and balanced by addressing the appropriate pillar(s) of the PDF. Furthermore, it should offer the user a personal fit and preferably has active involvement throughout the design process and usage. Finally, design should strive to have a long-term impact, in a sense that it is sustainable and has a prolonged adaptation period.

Positive Design Ingredients

Besides the above-mentioned pillars in which one can apply positive strategic design, there is a set of ingredients of which the effect on someone’s happiness is proven to be successful. These ingredients are derived from research in positive psychology and act as important rules of thumb to incorporate in design and prevent obstruction.

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