Could there be a design solution to unhappiness? Silvia Neretti, an Italian designer who just graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, explores the relationship between psychology and design in her master’s thesis, the Unhappiness Repairer. This pop-up therapy stand, not unlike Lucy’s psychiatrist’s booth in Peanuts, injects “happiness into everyday life,” according to Neretti.
This, she writes of the project on her website, is accomplished “through the analysis and the modification of the interactions between people, situations, and communication in a specific unhappy context, by sabotaging the symbolic objects in it…”
Unhappiness, she argues, is the result of a specific context (though as far as empirical psychology goes, she doesn’t provide any studies to back up that assertion). She becomes unhappy when her father bogarts the couch, splaying across it and not engaging her in conversation. As a design intervention, she creates cardboard subdivisions for the sofa–much like these park benches designed to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them–and suddenly, the video shows her and her father chatting happily.
In another case, she helps a woman, lonely and recently separated from her husband, think about her unhappiness spatially. Neretti maps the woman’s home, and using basic cardboard boxes, she covers the house in whimsical new creations–cardboard shelves, a cardboard desk to work at, cardboard decorations to replace tired paintings–all designed to get the client to think about her home in a new way, and eventually, move on.
Designers can never replace therapists and mental health professionals, and it’s likely that getting your distant father to talk to you isn’t quite as easy as making his favorite relaxation spot really uncomfortable. But having a third party help us rethink the roots of our unhappiness? Never a bad thing.