Using the Design for Happiness Cards for Life Design

This blog article tells the story of using a 5-year old card deck for a rather unusual design challenge — the one of mastering one’s own life or aspects thereof. Therefore, I shall describe the Design for Happiness Deck first, then the Design Therapy approach and lastly its experimental combination by applying the deck for life design.

The Design for Happiness Deck

Anyone who is unfamiliar with the Delft Institute of Positive Design in North Holland of the Netherlands, may benefit from a brief virtual tour. Picture a smaller town known for its tiles and Delft Blue decor and a leading university of technology — TU Delft.

The Institute for Industrial Design & Engineering (IDE) houses the institute for positive design and was established in 2011. The goal is to match the industrial revolution with tools & tricks to equally increase subjective wellbeing. Dishwashers alone don’t make us happy, so tools like this card deck with 72 cards, and 3 dimensions were “designed” to support the design process of such appliances.

The card deck itself is a free (for non commercial use) resource viewable here as a pdf. This easy access alone makes me “happy”! The deck was created by Pieter Desmet, Anna Pohlmeyer and Jay Yoon with design student alumni and is based on a well researched framework of the first two authors. Dr. Pohlmeyer, has since then left Delft and is applying her work at a Berlin-based industry serving company — diffferent. (As German native and community builder myself, I do follow people and places in my dot making, especially San Diego, Amsterdam and Berlin!)

The card deck sits in a white box and opens to reveal 72 cards matching dimensions: 1) pleasure (emotion), 2) human goals and 3) character strengths (virtues).

Examples for emotions are Amusement, Hope or Love. Each card defines the emotion in one sentence and gives an image and example of when it might arise.

Examples for human goals are Happiness, Material Gain or Safety. Again, each goal is supported by a succinct definition and image.

Lastly, character strengths are for instance Gratitude, Open Mindedness, or Spirituality.

This is the Design for Happiness Deck in a snapshot. The cards can be used in many creative ways for various projects — to infuse more happiness in experiences we have with surrounding design objects like dishwashers, computers, radios, and cars that can be more than just functional.

Do they spark joy for you?

Asking the obvious Mari Kondo question. For me they do, which is why I keep them prominent in my Design Therapy Space.

The Design Therapy Approach

The Design Therapy approach is combining design methods such as design thinking, design research and a systemic design framework with psychotherapy or systemic therapy that is typically used with individuals and couples for the riddance of mental health disorders.

Anyone unfamiliar with design as a discipline, practice or outlook, simply know that “good design” is the outcome of well established processes to yield a smooth and formidable experience, service or product — or chapter in life, as I’d like to add. Your favorite jacket or arm chair, your favorite store or corner in the museum or even your favorite person to hang around — these three examples probable tell you a lot about “good design”.

There is a huge opportunity in the field of mental health and healthcare in my perception, to move from symptom erasure to work on potential and future scenarios. Think of couples that “don’t need couple therapy” — once they are so-called “masters of marriage” (a term coined by Dr. Julie & John Gottman), how could they invest themselves further in dialog about their futures to benefit from their 1) built love map, 2) shared fondness and admiration, 3) turning towards one another, 4) positive perspective, 5) conflict management skills to create 6) shared meaning and 7) make life dreams come true? These seven steps are evidence based factors in healthy relationships that are described with the metaphor of a “Sound Relationship House” in the Gottman Therapy approach.

Design Therapy is my fusion of what I love in both disciplines and beyond — what I’ve seen work in three cultures, in many homes and zones and — extracted from life, work, and in-between experience. Some features of this approach are

Externalization &Visualizations

  • Retrieve your cliche image of psychotherapy. A serene room, two people, talk, emotions and tissues. The only tooling and visible experience is facial and hand gesture, tissues, distance between two or three bodies, expert books or degree on the wall, a plan perhaps.
  • Some approaches feature dolls or other tooling for role playing, a one-way mirror for colleagues to observe the therapist’s work or pillows to recline
  • Imagine now a space that includes a white board like at school for learning, drawing and explaining, a shelf with design card decks to card sort, with verbal or non-verbal content, and other tooling — a full-body mirror, ropes, blankets, balls, — think it and it could be there
  • The Design Therapy Space in Amsterdam is experimenting with such tooling and focuses on externalizing human experiences with simple tools like post-its, drawings, and large gestures like ‘body storming’ — hence the card deck is such a curious opportunity to focus on positive experiences in session

Creativity &Framing

  • Turning new ideas into reality – a.k.a. creativity- is integral in designing conventional design outcomes yet also unconventional life and lived outcomes. The Stanford University in California offers ‘Designing Your Life’ seminars for their students as coaching to support them in healthy decision making. Design Therapy takes it a step further to mental health and psychological wellbeing. What creative applications may arise?
  • Innovation often comes from framing something we know in a new way. A blood test? We know. But to test your fertility at home to know your fertility window before it becomes an issue. That’s innovative. Hey Grip is empowering women in their reproductive choices as we speak! Imagine now brainstorming on your couple issues, or prototyping new ways of conflict resolution in your private life — following known and proven design processes, maybe aided by a card deck

Co-Design at Eye-Level

  • Lastly, and that will do for today, Design Therapy takes the power relationship and hierarchy down a notch. Traditional or professionally regulated psychotherapy is governed by long-stemming rules on how to relate. How might we rethink those rules?
  • For instance, clients cannot be friends with psychotherapists up until 2 years after this unique relationship ends. Similarly, no “dual relationships” are allowed. You cannot be a therapist and neighbor, it is unethical. And lastly, the therapist is the expert of the process. Are they though?
  • The Design Therapy approach simply invites the clients to co-design certain experiences in the design therapy space and shares the steering wheel. Do you want sessions every month? Let’s experience that! You want to switch seats in the room? Be my guest. And you have a degree in psychotherapy as well or are a top designer? Let’s explore this from the same eye level.

Using the Design for Happiness Deck for Life Design

One way to use the design for happiness deck for “Design Your Life” for individuals and “Design Your Futures” for couples, is by simply putting the deck out in the open on the table or floor.

Imagine 72 or a certain number thereof of cards laid out that trigger and stimulate thinking how human goals affect one’s clearly defined challenge. Or how character strengths (virtues) constraint yet also boost your prototyping.

One prototypical way of structuring the design thinking in design terms are the six steps of Design Thinking

  1. Empathize & Accept: Tuning into your psychological needs, accepting them, and “sitting with it”.
  2. Defining the Challenge: Stating your needs and problem in a clear statement.
  3. Ideating: Challenge assumptions and creating ideas by thinking wide <
  4. Prototyping: Starting to form solutions by thinking more narrow >
  5. Testing: Trying one solution out after the other. Mono-tasking, slow space.
  6. Evaluate and Start with 1. again.

In the case of a female client who came to Design Therapy for a Starter Session to try it out, she sought healthier relationships with her family of origin. In the beginning and first two sessions, the focus is on intake and assessment and alignment on the promised approach and process. The promise is to craft a more positive design that is future-oriented, creative and co-designed.

At one point, the card deck came in very handy to infuse the Design Thinking with positivity and language from the card deck.

  1. Empathize & Accept: “What of your known character strengths constrain yet also color your reason for coming to Design Therapy?” It is very human to want it different, to desire other virtues, yet which ones were you dealt out and how fixed are they? Can “modesty” as a character strength also be unlearned? How to design for more emotions of “confidence”?
  2. Defining the Challenge: “What is your human goal in life or this life chapter that makes your problem statement even more crisp?” It is only helpful to relate the “in order to” part of this step to a human goal such as “increase financial resources”. The human goals cards of the deck spell out what one client might otherwise struggle to say in session.
  3. Ideating: “How might these seemingly unrelated cards reframe your understanding of the challenge?” Do these other cards help you understand the other stakeholders — your family of origin, your family of choice or co-workers?
  4. Prototyping: “What might an actionable solution and plan of action for the rest of today feel like?” Pick any emotion to attend better to the prototyped feeling. Designing a vision, interaction and experience can be more explicit on the emotional outcome. Pick cards that match!
  5. Testing: “What of the tried and tested solution correlates with the card deck?” Was a certain trial behavior meant to achieve self determination but misread by others as superiority? Theory of mind — how others see us plus we see others is a whole new level to systemic life design. Use the cards to map it.
  6. Lastly, Evaluation: “What positive emotions (or lack thereof) was experience?” What cards didn’t happen? Grab them to be concrete in what goes in round 2.

This outline of the card deck, the design therapy approach and the combination thereof for life design is a sketch that would benefit from your feedback and contributions. Please comment, contact me via my website or follow this channel to read updates and revisions in the near future. Until then, may your hands be full with positive future baby steps.

Passionate about people in systems & their communication in Focused on crafting inclusive workplace processes for growing companies in Germany & the US.