Design, Happiness and Museum Learning

Design Happiness?

Does design make you happy?

This was the question tackled by designers Thomas Thwaites  and J Paul Neeley at our recent free weekend talk ‘Design Happiness’ – part of our adult focused HLF activity. This was the first event I ran at the Design Museum. (Hi – I’m Thalia, the new Public Programme Manager) and it created just the kind of debate I want to see more of.

The event with J Paul and Thomas made us re-evaluate how we consider design and happiness. Take the chair  for example. To design a good chair is often one of the first assignments when studying design – yet sitting down for prolonged periods of time is far from good for you. It could be argued that chairs have in part caused the rise in heart disease and obesity (not a very happy story at all). Recent studies are proposing standing or ‘walking desks’ as happier alternatives.

Both Thomas’s and J Paul’s current projects try to imagine ways design could actively create happiness.

Thomas, recent Designer in Residence  at the Design Museum, spoke about Nebo – a new online service and range of objects that would help you live a happier life – shoes that make you take a walk on a sunny day; a wallet that won’t allow you to buy something you really don’t need.

J. Paul’s company Masamichi Souzou (正道想像) Japanese for “Correct Path, Imagined/Created” – also optimizes happiness through design solutions that affect the way you live, highlighting healthy eating, respecting circadian rhythm and physical activity as key to happiness.

But as our audience responded – would letting designs manage your life really make you happy?

Happiness and the Design Museum

The discussion with Thomas and J Paul was a wonderful reminder of our key themes as an institution – that design is everywhere, shaping the world and human experience.

At the Design Museum, how design can improve our futures is a key issue. We have links with the RCA Helen Hamlyn Centre, with Jeremy Myerson sitting on our learning committee.

It is also increasingly a concern of museums across the UK, with the Happy Museum Project looking into how museums can create a more sustainable, happy future, and the Museum Association focusing an entire seminar on how museums can contribute to well-being this March.

Questioning, provoking, and facilitating discussion about the role of design, and the future of design as a discipline, is a vital part of our work here in the Design Museum’s learning department and our Public Programme reflects this.

As part of our vision to help everyone understand the value of design, we plan events such as Design Happiness, where designers and members of the public get to exchange ideas and think afresh about what design means as a community.

Through the Design Museum we want everyone to be involved in building a world of brilliant, and happy, design.


  1 Comment

  1. Dana Mitroff Silvers   •  

    Hi Thalia,

    Great post! I just wanted to let your readers know that there will be a three-hour workshop on design, happiness, and museums offered at the MuseumNext 2014 conference in NewcastleGateshead on 18 June.

    The title is “Designing for Happiness: Using Design Thinking to Delight Users” and I’ll be co-leading the workshop.

    We’ll take participants through the entire design thinking cycle and tackle a challenge related to happiness. Hope to see you there!

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