From gloomy to cheerful: Mood regulation by design

Pieter Desmet
5-year project
October 2017 – October 2022
Principal Investigator: Pieter Desmet
Contact: Pieter Desmet / p.m.a.desmet[at]

In 2017, Desmet received an NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) Vici grant for his project proposal on “Design for Mood Regulation”. The grant supports a five-year research project, which started in October 2017. Vici is part of NWO’s Talent Scheme that encourages scientific talent by offering scientists in various stages of their career the opportunity to do ground-breaking research. The Vici grant is a boost for the laureates and it also creates opportunities for a large number of young researchers who will work in the laureates’ research groups.

Design for mood regulation
Can beds cheer up hospital patients? Can classrooms revitalise children? Can airplanes relax passengers? In other words: Can design stimulate positive moods? The question is vital to designers because, while often in the background of our awareness, moods strongly influence our physical health and mental well-being. To date, the mechanisms of mood in human-design interactions remain unrevealed. Design research traditionally focuses on the users’ momentary emotions (or ‘foreground experiences’), neglecting the user’s more elusive moods (or ‘background experiences’). In contrast, psychology has studied the causes of mood experiences, but has not examined the role of design in mood elicitation and regulation. The aim of the VICI project is to develop a theory of mood in human-design interaction. We will detail the mechanisms that underlie, stimulate, and influence mood experiences in human-design interactions. The theory will contribute to the discipline of experience design by explaining (a) how design can stimulate positive and reduce negative moods, and (b) how these design-supported mood regulations can foster human well-being. The project has four main objectives:

Objective 1: Principles of mood differentiation
RQ 1: What mechanisms evoke and differentiate mood states?
In other words, which (design) factors elicit or trigger irritation, cheerfulness, and other human moods? By also detailing the role of design in mood elicitation, this first objective will provide the groundwork for the next three objectives.

Objective 2: Principles of mood regulation
RQ 2: What are effective mood-regulating activities?
The second objective is to develop a broad overview of effective mood-regulating actions that can be embedded in human-product interactions. In addition, we will determine which activities are suitable for which mood transitions. Results will be organised in a detailed matrix of mood-regulating actions.

Objective 3: Methodology to design for mood
RQ 3: How can design support and stimulate mood regulation?
This question represents the project’s core objective. We will study how design can support and stimulate the various mood-regulating actions. The resulting knowledge will be integrated into a design methodology with systematic strategies outlining how to design interactions that stimulate positive and reduce mood states.

Objective 4: Effects of user mood on subjective well-being
RQ 4: How does design-mediated mood regulation contribute to user well-being?
In the final stage of this project, we will study the three-way relationship between design, user mood, and user well-being. The objective is to determine which types of design-mediated mood regulation foster user well-being, depending on the context of user activities. Results will indicate how design can best contribute to well-being by inciting and enabling users to actively regulate their own moods.

Project team
Principle investigator: Pieter Desmet
Postdoc researcher: Haian Xue, Steven Fokkinga
PhD candidates: to be determined

Project Planning
The image below shows the general project planning.

PhD projects
We are looking for three ambitious PhD candidates to join the ‘Design for Mood’ team in developing strategies to design for mood regulation that support a systematic design approach. The positions are for four years, and they are planned to start in October 2018. With a research-through-design approach, they will build on the theoretical foundation that is currently developed in Project A.

Mood is traditionally studied using experimental designs that have an environmental stimulus as the independent variable (e.g. colour or fragrance), and mood as the dependent. While this approach assumes a unidirectional causality (i.e. the design affects the person’s mood), the approach adopted for this project views the person and design in a bidirectional relationship. As a consequence, the studies in the PhD projects will rely on the development of complex interactive stimuli integrated into everyday products and environments. We will use real-life intervention studies to explore and test for the mood-differentiating and -regulating effects of these interactive stimuli. With a research-through-design approach, products and interior designs will be made to investigate activities that fall under three categories of mood-regulating activities (Refocus, Revitalise, and Reframe). The most effective manipulations will be adopted and adapted through design and testing cycles, followed by manipulation checks. Case and intervention studies will be organised in real-life situations.

Requirements for candidates PhD positions
Our ideal candidate has a MSc in design (and an interest in mood/emotions), or in psychology (with expertise on emotions/mood and an interest in product design). She or he has excellent research and writing skills and a strong interest in pursuing a scientific career, as well as the ability to develop creative design tools and techniques. The position is full-time for four years.

Submitting your application
The deadline for submitting applications is July 15, 2018.
Candidates are invited to submit:

– A motivation letter
– A curriculum vitae (including references)
– Recommendation letters (optional)
– One or more publications (or reports) of which you are the first author, and any other means by which you can demonstrate your writing skills/experience
– Portfolio (optional)

An online vacancy description can be found on the TU Delft website. This description provides information about salary, conditions for employment, and instructions for submitting your application.

Additional information:
For candidates for the PhD positions, an overview of the VICI project (including overall aim, research questions and studies) can be obtained upon request, by sending an email to Pieter Desmet.

Position paper about design for mood <link to paper>
Desmet, P.M.A. (2015). Design for mood: Twenty activity-based opportunities to design for mood regulation. International Journal of Design, 9(2), 1-19.

Overview paper on measuring mood <link to paper>
Desmet, P.M.A., Vastenburg, M.H., & Romero Herrera, N. (2016). Mood Measurement with Pick-A-Mood; Review of current methods and design of a pictorial self-report scale. Journal of Design Research, 14 (3), 241–279.

Visual mood scale “Pick-A-Mood”

Pick-A-Mood pictorial tool for mood measurement