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]

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.

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
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
Principe investigator:
Pieter Desmet
Postdoc researchers:
Haian Xue, Steven Fokkinga
PhD candidates:
Makiko Higashi, Pelin Esnaf, Alev Sonmez, Alberto Iberbuden

Project results

Desmet, P.M.A., Xue, H., & Fokkinga, S.F. (2019). The Same Person Is Never the Same: Introducing Mood-Stimulated Thought/Action Tendencies for User-Centered Design. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 5(3), 167-187.  (To the page of this publication)

Desmet, P.M.A., Xue, H., & Fokkinga, S.F. (2020). Twenty moods: Holistic typology of human mood states (first edition). Delft: Delft University of Technology. ISBN: 978-94-6384-013-2. (To the page of this publication)

Xue, H., & Desmet, P.M.A. (2019). Researcher introspection for experience-driven design research. Design Studies, 63, 37-64. (To the page of this publication)

Xue, H., Desmet, P.M.A., & Fokkinga, S.F. (2020). Mood granularity for design: Introducing a holistic typology of 20 mood states. International Journal of Design, 14(1), 1-18. (To the page of this publication)

Additional design for mood papers and tools

Position paper about design for mood
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. (To the page of this publication)

Overview paper on measuring mood
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. (To the page of this publication)

Visual mood scale Pick-A-Mood (To the page of this publication)