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The corona crisis is becoming more and more of a mental crisis. These were the most depressing months of the year and consequently restrictive measures have hit especially hard. Our resilience dissipated and we felt somber. Some people exploded as a result of this somberness and became rebellious or aggressive. Others imploded and saw life as unbearable. Young people in particular were felled by an all-consuming sense of gloom: 82 percent of Dutch youth are on the verge of a breakdown, according to research by the National Center for the Prevention of Stress and Burn-Out. That affects me.

Designing a smile

We think that a feeling is something that comes from within, but that is only half the truth. We can influence our moods by the way we design our surroundings. For example, it is almost impossible to look at the work of Gaudí without ending up with a smile on your face and eyes wide open full of wonder. Another powerful example of how design can turn your perceptions upside down – literally – is the loft homes from the Reversible Destiny Foundation.

But when it comes to the interaction between design and emotion, we don’t always have to look at it grotesquely like Gaudí does. Design can also have a positive impact on your feelings in a finely tuned way. My favorite books deal with exactly that theme. For one thing, I learned from the book ‘Joyful‘ by designer Ingrid Fetell Lee about the emergence of the positive power of sunshine yellow, round shapes, tiny surprises in unusual places, and fresh plants. You can accomplish a lot with the little things. That’s why in recent months I’ve transformed my study into a green oasis where there are always fresh flowers and inspiring cards hidden in places you would least expect to find them. Anything for a daily smile.

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    Reeves was born with one arm that did not grow beyond the elbow. You could see that as a handicap, but also as an opportunity to think bigger. Which is what Reeves did. She designed a 3D printed prosthetic arm that could “fire” glitter and gained international fame in the process. When the young Reeves was asked what she liked about her glitter arm, she replied, “The joy it brings to everyone.”

    Let design save us from somberness

    Design is not only found in tangible things, it is also in non-tangible things like music or spoken word. The sounds that you absorb influence your state of mind, both positively and negatively. So a Dutch minister who, at the depths of the mental crisis among young people, exclaims that young people should take into account that they are going to be held back this year, has understood nothing, and I mean nothing at all. Even a message is something that you design, So please let the undertone of that message in this stage of the crisis be uplifting! This does not mean that you should not be realistic; but there is both a positive and a negative side to realism as well.

    Everything you do, say, or make has a design element. And the result of that design influences the state of mind of the other person. The design movement where design is based on an underlying feeling or whereby the design directly addresses a particular feeling, is also known as emo design. During the last Dutch Design Week, emo design was already named as one of the trends of the moment. Hopefully this trend will quickly catch on because there is plenty of work to be done. We must save our young people from somberness. Let a design mindset help us do that!

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Eveline van Zeeland studied General Economics and Psychology. She is the owner of the Marketing Design Lab and a senior lecturer in Research and Technology at HAN. Eveline is the author of the Basic book Neuromarketing and of the book Marketing Design with Customer Journey Mapping. She is also the author of several scientific papers on the theme of trust. Van Zeeland is the winner of the PIM Marketing Literature Award 2020 in the Netherlands.