Can designers create happiness?

International speaker, Alice Rawsthorn.

This question will be at the heart of discussions at an upcoming symposium in Sydney. The event titled ‘7 Kinds of Happiness: Conversations on Design and Emotion’ is curated by Melbourne-based design studio, The Office for Good Design and will centre around a series of live and skype discussions, each exploring how happiness impacts the practice of leading local and international designers including Stefan Sagmeister.

Joan-Maree Hargreaves speaks with the three creatives who started the Office for Good Design: Kate Rhodes, Dan Honey and Emma Telfer about their studio and this upcoming project.

Tell me about the Office of Good Design and how are you different from other design studios?

We (Kate Rhodes, Dan Honey & Emma Telfer) met when we worked together on the State of Design Festival in Melbourne. We are all committed to assisting in the development of the creative industries in Australia, and we realised that there was an opportunity to create programming and content that would contribute to this mission. We were also motivated to form our partnership because we respect each other, share creative values and have fun along the way.

The Office creates platforms for new design work, critical discussion and interdisciplinary exchange. Through exhibitions, public conversations, strategies and activities, both self-initiated and commissioned, we seek innovation, support experimentation, and advocate the value of good design and creativity.

You’re curating ‘7 Kinds of Happiness: Conversations on Design and Emotion’ which will be held later in the year. Can you tell me how the idea was generated and how it led to this conference?

We were engaged by designEX to shake up the standard keynote lecture series they have produced in the past. We are interested in creating an immersive and engaging experience that is critical but accessible to a broad audience.

With 7 Kinds of Happiness, we were inspired to explore how designers use, explore or consider happiness in their practice.

Should designers work with happiness in mind? Do they think design can create happiness?

Through this exploration, we are eager to see if design can assist in creating a greater sense of community and belonging, and a heightened civic well-being by making happiness a desirable outcome.



Why have you chosen the particular speakers you have? What do they have in common?

Each of the speakers brings something very personal to the question “Can designers create happiness?” and we chose them because each has taken up this question, or ones like it, in different ways. Some have worked on projects that give rise to thinking about this question and together they form a set of intriguing ways to unpack the relationship of personal emotion to design research and how we seek solutions through design and the value of happiness to society and what role designers might play in helping to tease this out. We are after multiple ways to get at this seemingly simple question. Each designer’s experience, personal philosophy or particular example of their work will be drawn out during the talks to help show that this question might be, in fact, one of the most important we can ask ourselves. The speakers we have asked are:

Happiness 1 with Alice Rawsthorn (live keynote)
Happiness 2 with Stefan Sagmeister In conversation with N (via Skype)
Happiness 3 with Rotor In conversation with N (via Skype)
Happiness 4 with Ilse Crawford In conversation with N (via Skype)
Happiness 5 with WORKac In conversation with N (via Skype)
Happiness 6 with Anthony Burke, Gerard Reinmuth and TOKO In conversation with N (live panel discussion)
Happiness 7 with Broached Commissions on Australian Design History



Why happiness?

Happiness, as we know, can be hard to achieve because we find it difficult to pin down exactly what happiness means to us. We often know what makes us happy, but we still find it hard to make ourselves happy because we argue that we have a lack of time or money or our situation keeps us from doing the things we know will make us happy. Happiness is so fundamental but we can’t always grasp it and that’s makes it a fascinating topic for discussion.

7 Kinds of Happiness will be an opportunity to put design and designers in front of this question and to dig around related questions such as can happiness be ethical and why is it important to consider how we shape the material world, and how does it affect our physical and emotional well being?

Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister

Can designers create happiness? Should this be their ultimate objective?

This is exactly the task ahead. We’ll be spending three days asking just these kinds of questions. Certainly we think that design can improve life from the most basic human requirements, such as designing systems that supply clean drinking water, to greener and safer cars, to better food labeling, production and smarter messaging around its consumption, designers impact our personal lives on a daily basis. What we hope we’ll uncover during the talks is how can we approach the challenge of seeking solutions that sustainably enrich our lives and which might also create happiness?

Do you think designing for happiness is a new idea?

The aim of 7 Kinds of Happiness is to bring some new thinking to a long-standing, complex and fascinating area of enquiry. Some great international writers and designers are bringing highly original thoughts to the subject and this prompted us to curate a speaker series that brings some of this thinking to the Australian design community.

What is the main objective of this project?

As with any OFGD project, we advocate the value of good design and creativity by stimulating conversation about what design and designers do. With 7 Kinds of Happiness, we are interested in unpacking the social and physical factors for designing happiness and asking can we design them more often, for more people.

Tell me about a couple of your projects and what they say about design in the 21st Century?

Collectively, we have delivered design and community development programs for Victorian Government departments of Major Projects and Business Innovation, the Queensland Government Department of Premier and Cabinet, Melbourne Open House, Indesign Group, Architecture Media, Victorian College of the Arts, Craft Victoria, The National Design Centre, L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design.

We are currently working with Arts Centre Melbourne on Audio Architecture, a design program commissioned for the launch of Hamer Hall’s major refurbishment in July.

Audio Architecture explores cities and sound through public talks, a tertiary student design camp, five workshops, and an online exhibition. We are also continuing the Sound of Buildings. Launched during State of Design Festival and Melbourne Open House 2011. Sound of Buildings is an app that offers multimedia walking tours of Melbourne’s most architecturally significant buildings, told through the voices of designers, building users and children. And of course, 7 Kinds of Happiness: Conversations on Design and Emotion with designEX.


Concept for Happy Place venue