Through this abstract I would like to introduce the methodology I developed for my social design master thesis: “The Unhappiness Repairer”, an empirical experiment that provides insight on how the design field and the psychology world can be strategically combined in order to “design happiness” and train it into everyday life.
I began developing this methodology with my bachelor thesis, which shows how to inscribe psychotherapeutic treatments into artifacts.
I called them, behavioral artifacts, whose aim, in that case, was to heal bad habits. By inscribing in those artifacts the Paradox Theory by P.Watzlawick, through the Actor Network Theory (ANT) by B.Latour, I delegated to their use the ability to make the users perform and amplify the bad habit behavior, in order to become conscious of their actions and break the vicious circle.
The new challenge of “The Unhappiness Repairer”, was to inscribe into artifacts the agency of making users perform a positive behavioral change within adverse context influences. I propose this shift as happiness. My researches focus on the relation between happiness - as knowing one’s own self nature, being in control and engaged in the discovery of one’s personal needs and desires (M.Selingman, M.Csikszentmihalyi) - and the influences of surrounding contexts. Western society uses happiness as a mechanism to influence and frustrate people actual desires and needs, promising to reach a future bliss. This assure that people accept economical and societal rules, and results in a lost sense of acquaintance with one’s own personal, uninfluenced desires. “Society and economy needs our unhappiness and social ineptitude to work”. P. Watzlawick.
My methodology aims to help people to detach from the influences of context perceive as adverse, by using behavioral artifacts.
I delegated those artifacts the ability to force users in performing different actions in the context and consequently break their repetitive thinking pattern related to it. The artifacts help the users to understand the nature of the problem they were experiencing in the context. Contextually, these artifacts help users to develop personal strength and to stimulate personalized alternative solutions.
The artifacts are created by observing the usual user’s behavior and the existing objects in his/her personal context. Every artifacts is a camouflage, substitution, sabotage or modification of a preexisting object agency -of everyday use- in the context.
I consider the context as a situation in which different actors (people and artifacts with different scripts of actions) interact and influence each other. I delegate the resolution of a troubled mental state to the effectiveness of the artifact’s ability to force behavioral performance change in context. Ethnopsychiatry does this with different subjects: it heals mental issues of expatriates from Africa to Europe, using their native beliefs.
By showing the results of my first case study, I would like to explain my methodology, its functioning and effectiveness.
To design happiness means to help people to develop the ability to detach from external influences and to focus on personal needs and desires, through the use of specific designed behavioral artifacts that modify the interaction in and the perception of a context.
The Unhappiness Repairer's pop-up office.
The Unhappiness Repairer's Practice. Femke Rijerman
Ingrid's context sabotage.
Chair disabler as Letter box.
Ingrid's suggestions from the Letter box.
Letter box second function: box to move.
Shelf cover closed.
Shelf cover open.
Iphone Chastity Belt.
Book for suggestions.
Ingrid's conclusion in her attic.
Ingrid's new meaning of happiness.
The Unhappiness Repairer borns as a methodology that explore the combining possibilities within two fields (design and psychology). Its aim is to design happiness: how to transform happiness in to a learnable behavior (series of actions), to be trained into the everyday life.
The research questions that lead me to define the methodology were:
"Can I design happiness?", "What does 'designing happiness' mean?", "What kind of happiness?", "How can I transform happiness in a learnable mechanism?", "Why society gives us any kind of support but the one to empower self awareness and independence from the contexts?", "Why psychology is perceived as the main holder of answers for individual happiness questions?", "Is design a tool to rebuild the self?"
The biggest fascination in my work as designer is the human behavior, how to change it and modify habits. For my bachelor thesis I developed a series of artifacts to heal bad habits: I inscribed in them the Paradox Theory from P.Watzlawick, through the A.N.T. from Bruno Latour: when used, this artifacts force the user to perform and amplify a bad habit behavior, in order to become aware and break the vicious circle. I started designing "behavioral artifacts".
I further developed this methodology, by inscribing in the behavioral artifacts the agency of making the user perform happiness, such as a shift of actions to lead a person change the thinking pattern related to an unhappiness state of mind.
The first element of my methodology is a meaning of happiness that can be designed: a behavior that become script with which design behavioral artifacts.
In the words of Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, I understood happiness: it stands between engagement and meaningfulness. Being happy as willing to discover a right complexity balance within your daily life, knowing your strength and uniqueness, using it for a bigger purpose in life as well to help other people. Being happy means being aware of the self, no matter the external conditions and influences oneself has to struggle with.
Personal happiness and external influences (the second element of my methodology) are linked together.
In Watzlawick's quote I discovered the 'happiness paradox': "Society and economy need our unhappiness and social ineptitude to work".
Happiness, in shape of fake desires and needs postponed in the future, is used as a mechanism to frustrate, influence and deviate human desires and needs in the presents. Frustrations create energy that is used by economy to work. Social norms assure the acceptance of the standard happiness created. Western society colonize present human desires and needs that accept and perpetrate the happiness standard created in a top-down way: by not discussing it, no space for self exploration and personal happiness can be provoked.
Happiness to me lies in the intention of knowing the self purposes, desires and needs, being aware and independent from external conditions.
The third element of my methodology is the context, the place in which personal happiness and external influences meet: a situation in which actors (with different script of actions) interact between each other, with informations and feelings.
Happiness become a behavior: detach from influences in a perceived-as-adverse context, engaging oneself in finding solutions and personal meaning of happiness.
As a designer I decided to focus on the artifacts inside a context. They hold a script of actions, they are silent viewer of your everyday life.
My action is to sabotage, modify, camouflage, substitute the already existing artifacts in a context, in order to push a person to modify his behavior and routine in the usual context in which he feels unhappy.
By observing and analyzing the usual user's behavior in the adverse contexts, I understand which artifacts to modify by creating new script of actions in shape as new behavioral artifacts.
I took inspiration from Ethnopsychiatry, a discipline whose aim is to heal a trouble mental issue of african expatriate in Europe, by influencing the patient with his own belonging culture, reconnecting him with the new context by using symbolism and artifacts. Within the psychotherapy field nowadays a lot of discussion have been made. One of the issue in which I focused more, is that you can't help a patient develop his own strength about an unhappiness issues when his agency of solving the problem has given to the therapist. With my methodology I want to influence my user with his own nature, giving him back the agency of modifying his own context. (Nathan.)
My role as a designer is to stand as a mediator between the context influences and the troubled mental issue a person is feeling in it. I delegate the solution of this mental state to the artifacts already present in the context, by modifying their usual script of actions.
This lead to modify the actions and behavior of the person, break his routine, modify the thinking pattern about the problem, detach him from influences, provoke a space for self creative solutions about the problem, until he develops a personal meaning of happiness needed in the moment, as a suggestion to follow.
My methodology wants to suggests that unhappiness doesn't lie in a person, but in the interactions between a person and the context he is in and that is always possible to do something about it.
To design happiness to me means to push people to have back the agency of modifying their "unhappy" context, creating a not-influenced space to understand the problem and develop new and personal meaning of happiness as suggestions to follow. I delegate this actions to the artifacts already present in the context, by modifying their script of action.
I applied the methodology to Ingrid Magilsen, my first case study.
I met her in the public space, in my pop-up office. When we met she told me she needed to be more proactive, embrace the change in her life and stop procrastinating. We decided to start the methodology, keeping track of every reaction also by using Whatsapp.
Ingrid is a writer and editor, so she spends most of her time at home.
The aim of my methodology is to understand the interactions and influences connected to a context in which a person feels unhappy, so I decided to analyze Ingrid's home environment by giving her a house visit.
During the first house visit Ingrid was explaining to me her space and her usual behavior in it. She told me that speaking about a problem where it was happening was really confronting, she opened up: the relationship with her husband was ending and she has to leave the house with her son but she was afraid to do it. She wasn't using anymore the space inside the house because she was feeling foreign to that place: she was constraining herself in just one chair in the kitchen, she wasn't using anymore the living room and the sofa. Her studio, in the first floor, was full of stuff and she told me "I feel like I am part of the storage, I am collecting dead memories instead of having the courage to change". Than she told me she wasn't sleeping anymore in the bedroom with her husband, but alone, in the attic. She didn't show me this last place: she was feeling ashamed about her situation.
After collecting informations and analyzing behaviors connected to context, I decided to modify six objects inside her space in order to make Ingrid experiences her environment in a different way for 4weeks.
I used the cardboard as healing material that is also associated with home moving: I decided that every new behavioral artifacts I was designing for Ingrid had a second functions: every object transforms in a box to move.
I wanted to give Ingrid the feeling of the choice she was procrastinating.
I modified her usual kitchen chair with a Chair Disabler/Letter Box: she couldn't anymore sit on the chair, it became a letter box. Every time she was trying to approach that chair, she changed her habit of sitting, experiencing the space differently, modifying her perspective, than write or draw in the notebook in the letter box a "place in which she would love to live again".
I modified her laptop and Iphone, to interrupt her binge internet use. I designed for her an iPhone Chastity Belt, a phone touch screen cover with just a small window open to slide and answer to phone calls only: by disabling the use of the touch screen she couldn't hide in the virtual world.
My favorite artifact sabotage, was the a Shelf Cover for her studio bookshelf: I challenged Ingrid in remembering the things inside, in order to let understand how not important this dead memories were.
She started giving things away, sitting in different spots in the house, bus and also speaking with new people.
At the end of the 4weeks she changed her mind about her problem: she showed me her secret place (her attic) and developed her personal meaning of happiness, as a goal to follow: "new space". Ingrid now is is living in a new home with her son.
This designing happiness methodology is attracting attention in a way that made me think how much and why this approach is needed or interesting for people and gives insights to different professions.
Really clever way to help change behavior for the better
It combined psychology and the design method to improve people's daily happiness levels. It's a really clever way to get rid of their bad habits and help them change their behavior for the better.
The video exemplifies this more responsible and expanded notion of design and the designer
The video exemplifies, for me, this more responsible and expanded notion of design and the designer.
The Unhappiness Recorder talks about different roles for designers and an expanded view of design where we're not just creating these glossy products that satisfy simple needs, but really delving into what happiness means and exploring how we use existing products and make interventions in quite creative and interesting but lo-fi ways.