A Positive Design Manifesto

The future of designing technology is designing toward happiness.

So much attention is focused on how technology makes us sad, lonely, addicted, lazy, and maybe a little stupid. At the same time, we know that technology also makes us feel smart, whole, and connected. What if we could intentionally design technologies for positive emotions and outcomes? This is at the heart of positive design.

Positive design is the result of an evolution.

  • The first phase of designing technologies was about creating a frictionless space for productivity.
  • The second phase has been about optimizing experiences for persuasion and engagement.
  • We are now in the third phase. Positive design is not just about solving problems but creating possibilities.

Positive design is cross-disciplinary. It lives at the intersection of positive psychology, neuroscience, human computer interaction, data science, affective computing, and behavioral economics.

Positive design is not a marketing campaign that uses happiness to sell a new product. It’s not vibrant colors, or even colors based on broad strokes psychology. It’s not an algorithm that knows our moods, tastes, and preferences.

Positive design is grounded in research that shows happiness leads to positive behaviors. It means positive outcomes for organizations, such as product purchase, community participation, and brand attachment. And, more importantly, it means a greater sense of well-being for individuals and communities.

Positive design embraces rich experience, balancing pleasure and purpose. It is about broadening options rather than narrowing them. It evokes and amplifies positive emotion.

The Principles of Positive Design

  1. Positive design creates autonomy. It creates technologies where people can help themselves, learn, and feel a sense of mastery.
  2. Positive design builds trust. It provides safe spaces, where people are treated with respect, care, and empathy in the short-term and the long-term.
  3. Positive design supports creativity. It gives people the opportunity to play and try things out without negative effect, to discover new things about themselves, and to create.
  4. Positive design fosters connection. It is filled with people we care about — whether real-life friends, people we met online, or people we want to meet. It is about community.
  5. Positive design enables meaning. It lets people engage with the world in new ways, providing continuity between technology spaces and real-world spaces.

Rather than making us feel stressed and unhappy, the design of technology should make us feel better about ourselves, each other, and the world. Positive design is a step in that direction.