Joyful Design 02

The more you know about people the better experiences your are able to design. The knowledge about human behaviour and psychology is especially important if we want to evoke specific emotions through our designs. „100 things every designer needs to know about people“ by Susan M. Weinschenk is the perfect source to get a broad and basic understanding of how people think, decide and behave. The following are three important findings from Susan M. Weinschenk which can be associated with creating joy.

“3 facts about design and emotions” 

If people can’t feel, then they can’t decide

If you want people to make a decision and take an action, you need to show them information, images, or a video that triggers an emotion – they will be more likely to decide if they have an emotional experience. So, when designing you need to consider the emotions you’re going to generate as people interact with your product. If the experience of your product is sad – such as a sad story – people will be in a sad mood that might affect the next action they take. You especially have to be aware  of the facial expression that may change when people use your product. Researches proved that our facial expressions are directly linked to our emotions. If we smile, we feel happy—if we are not able to smile, we can not experience happiness—if our face is paralyzed we are not able to experience emotions, since we are not able to show facial expressions. For example, if people have to squish their eyes to be able to read the small font, you used on your product, that will may prevent them from feeling happy, which in turn affects an action you may want them to take. [1]

People are programmed to enjoy surprises

If you want to grab attention, design something that is novel to people. Designing something new – something unexpected – can also be pleasurable to people. Our brain scans our environment for anything that could be dangerous and therefore for anything that is novel. A research by Gregory Berns reveals that the human brain not only looks for the unexpected but craves the unexpected. [2] Researchers also measured the most activity in the nucleus accumbers, the part of the brain that is active when people experience pleasurable experiences, when something unexpected happens. [3]

Pastoral scenes make people happy

Pastoral Landscape by Alvan Fisher, 1854

Pastoral scenes are a part of our evolution, which is also the reason why we are so drawn to those scenes. Typical landscape scenes include, according to Denis Dutton, hills, water, trees, birds, animals and a path moving through the scene – an ideal landscape for humans, containing protection, water and food. Dutton notes that our species has evolved to feel a need for certain types of beauty in our lives and that this pull towards things such as theses landscapes has helped us to survive as a species. He also notes that all cultures value artwork that includes these scenes – regardless where people come from. [4]


[1] Weinschenk, Susan M.: 100 things every designer needs to know about people. 2nd edition. 2020 Peachpit, p. 171 f.

[2] Berns Gregory, S. / McClure, S. / Pagnogni, S. / Montague, P.: The Journal of Neuroscience 21(8). Predictability modulates human brain response to reward.

[3] Weinschenk, Susan M.: 100 things every designer needs to know about people. 2nd edition. 2020 Peachpit, p. 173 f.

[4] TED. Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty. URL: (last retrieved November 14, 2020)

Joyful Design 01

  • Where does joy come from?
  • How do things make us feel joy?
  • How can we create joyful design experiences?
  • How can  joyful design change human behavior and well being?

What is joy?

Joy is much more than feeling happy – it is the intense feeling of great happiness and feeling good in the moment. [1] Joy is that emotion which makes us laugh and/or jump in the air. 

The “wheel of emotions” developed by Robert Plutchik, suggests eight primary emotions grouped on a positive or negative basis – one of them is joy.

Wheel of Emotions by Robert Plutchik

joy versus sadness; anger versus fear, trust versus disgust, surprise versus anticipation

Considering his theory, basic emotions can be paired/modified to create complex emotions. The complex emotions could arise from cultural conditions or associations combined with the basic emotions – similar to the way primary colors can be combined, primary emotions could blend to form the full spectrum of human emotional experience. [2]

Joy and Design
Influence on human behavior and well-being

Ingrid Fetell Lee dedicates her work to the studies of joy in our life – Where does joy come from? What brings joy? She wrote the book “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” [3] and gave a TED talk on the subject, titled “Where joy hides and how to find it.” [4] Through her studies she found out that there is a relationship between the physical world and the feeling of joy and that there are universal matters that spark joy in almost everyone – such as rainbows, fireworks and bubbles. Those elements remind us of shared humanity in a common experience of our physical world.

Ingrid Fetell Lee particularly analyzed the “aesthetics of joy” and came to the conclusion that those are especially round things, pops of bright color, symmetrical shapes/arrangements, multiplicity, a sense of abundance and a feeling of lightness.

Case Study Project Backboard

Project Backboard was founded in 2014 by Dan Peterson. Dan’s mission: using public basketball courts as a canvas for creative expression to strengthen communities and inspire multi-generational play. To Dan, basketball is much more than only sport – it represents joy and community. In the last years Project Backboard renovated over two dozen basketball courts from Memphis to Puerto Rico. [5]

“I am trying to explore how color can reengineer the space to make it feel more inviting.” – Dan Peterson

ARTIST: Carlos Rolón – Toa Baja, Puerto Rico

“I see art as a real utility that changes the way people engage with space. I feel they feel safer. When walking into our space, I believe people feel a physical vibration of the color. You feel the color in your body.” – Dan Peterson

ARTIST: Jim Drain – Fargnoli Park, Providence, RI

Project Backboard is only one of many examples how our environment and society can benefit by sparking joy through art and design.


[1] Oxford Dictionaries. Joy. Url:
(last retrieved November 08, 2020)
[2] Lupton, Ellen: Design is Storytelling. (p. 61) New York: Cooper Hewitt 2017
[3] Fetell, Lee: Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Little, Brown Spark 2018
[4] TED. Fetell Lee, Ingrid: Where joy hides and where to find it. URL: (last retrieved November 08, 2020)
[5] Project Backboard. URL:
(last retrieved November 08, 2020)