Joyful Design 04

Context creates Joy

In his Ted Talk about “How beauty feels” Richard Seymour affirms the importance of creating context to achieve a joyful or “beautiful” experience. As an example he mentions lights in cars slowly turning off. “I’ve never found anybody that doesn’t like the light that goes out slowly. I thought, well what the hell’s that about?“ – Richard Seymour. [1]

Lights slowly turning off in cars are a perfect example of a subtle but joyful experience. In general, people describe this experience as natural, or just nice. But there is much more behind this experience design than just a nice “gimmick”. Lights slowly turning off – light to dark in six seconds – in fact, this experience perfectly imitates the experience of going to cinema or theater, which triggers a sense of relaxation tempered with anticipation. When the lights turn slowly dark within six seconds when being in cinema or the theater, that is exactly the moment of experiencing great anticipation – this characteristic gets automatically stored in our unconscious mind and therefore in further consequence connoted with a positive feeling. This theory even gets strengthened through the fact, that the experience of the lights turning slowly off in 6 seconds was experienced much more positive by people who are used to go to cinema or the theater. [2]

Hence, to create something joyful we have to trigger an emotional response – often aroused through poignancy, which can too trigger a sad emotional response. „It isn’t just about nice. And this is the dilemma, this is the paradox of beauty.“ as Seymour states. Joy can be aroused through triggering good, bad (pathos), exciting (triumph) or even frightening emotions. [3] Those emotions arise in our unconscious mind, even before we can manipulate them – smart design takes that knowledge in consideration to guide the experience.

A story, a work of art, a face, a designed object — how do we tell that something is beautiful? And why does it matter so much to us? Designer Richard Seymour explores our response to beauty and the surprising power of objects that exhibit it.

It is hard to find universal characteristics of joy or beauty. As mentioned in the previous post, there for sure is something like an universal experience of beauty, which is deeply related to our evolution. Related to evolution is humans fascination for:

Pastoral landscapes
(= safe, propitious and liveable environment)

Skilled performances
(= increase status, desirable personal qualities: intelligence, conscientiousness, access to rare materials)

Rare materials, Symmetry
(= wealth)

However, there is much more to consider in addition to this “predefined fascination” – particularly the details lie in our individual experiences, knowledge and preferences, that we develop over time. By injecting meaning and context to experiences, we trigger an emotional response:

Happiness, Compassion, Surprise, Amazement

Which can lead to a joyful experience. The creation of meaning and context can be achieved by considering elements that refer to our universal values, collective knowledge and/or individual preferences.

A water bottle by Ross Lovegrove [4] – pretty close to intrinsic beauty – an embodiment of water, something refreshing and delicious. People who are aware of how hard it is to design and produce a bottle of this shape enjoy this product even more.


[1] TED. Richard Seymour: How Beauty Feels. URL: (last retrieved December 29, 2020)

[2] ebda.

[3] ebda.

[4] Ross Lovegrove. URL: (last retrieved December 30, 2020)