The Well-Being Superhero Costume: The Favourites

May 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

This was the final outfit.

I used that belt to hold a spy camera to catch people’s smiles.

Testing cape action!

Skittles are actually the Well-Being Superhero superfood. They’re very good for sharing.

By the way, wearing this outfit was scary. People wanted to know why I was wearing it, so I told people about my project and that helped the project creatively. Some people didn’t ask, didn’t understand, and laughed. At first I was scared of being laughed at, but then I realised that they were laughing at the character, not me.

After the experience of wearing the outfit for two months, I now really don’t mind what other people think of me. Obviously I’m slightly eccentric for being able to pull all this off – but I’m really helping people too, and certainly not hurting anyone. If the character makes people laugh, that’s a good by-product of the project. Being ever more comfortable with my own identity is another good by-product.


Exam over!

May 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Did my exam presentation today! I think it went well, I stumbled on words a couple of times and had to wait for the video to come on for a few seconds (was talking slightly too fast) but otherwise it went as well as it could have gone. I answered the questions they posed thoroughly and enthusiastically.

I’ll get on uploading some pictures on here in the next few days.

good design

May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Design is creating something that aims to make the world better. Better, to me, is more meaningful and happier.
Good design is not only creating an effective something to make the world better.

Good design is asking a good question and then answering it effectively.

Half this year was about finding the right question. As the answer developed, so did the question. Half of asking a good question is articulating it well. I knew in my heart what it was, I just didn’t know how to communicate it. Communicating it leads to a good answer, because other people help answering the question.


Design is asking a question and then answering it. Good design is finding a good question and creating an effective answer. The best questions identify real problems. Through the design process, the question can be reformed as unforeseen information is found; flexibility in this allows for more interesting answers.

This is applicable to my project in that I knew without being to articulate it that my project was about what a designer can do to help improve other people’s well-being. Through conversations, theoretical research, film making and dressing up like a superhero, I was able to articulate this, and find out what can improve well-being. I then translated the results of the design research into a framework that other people can use to explore their own well-being. Through prototyping and user testing, the ‘answer’ improved.

I realise that not every designer cares as much as I do about the right question, and I believe this is why design is how it is today. We live in an unsustainable throwaway culture and designers are partly to blame. Not everyone looks at the bigger picture. By defining myself as a designer, I am taking on the scary responsibility of trying to show through my own work that design can do more than create pretty chairs – design can help identify real answers and come up with solutions that truly make the world better.

Design and Education in the House of Lords

May 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

I came to this talk because I had connected Kay Stables, head of Design at Goldsmiths, with Joceyln Bailey of Policy Connect who organised the talk today.

I don’t have time to go into detail, but I’d hoped that, this being a political place to have a discussion, some solutions would clearly arise. Instead what happened was, as it always does in these talks, everyone contributed good and sometimes contrasting ideas, and there was barely any summation with a clear set of ideas to take forward. We didn’t all agree on anything.

There were numerous answers for what design is, along all the spectrum of it. Design is so broad that maybe it can’t be defined, with one definition for everyone.

Some people want design as the centre of education, and do projects through it, while some people don’t want design in the curriculum at all because then it has to be examined.

How do you measure design? Perhaps by the student’s own aims.

I have fulfilled my aims this year, but I didn’t voice them very well. What I meant to do was design something to help improve well-being. Maybe I did say that. I didn’t know how I would do it, so I didn’t have the words to describe it. It was risky. And I’m glad I took the risk.

I sat next to someone that turned out to be important: Michael Bouchard. I invited him to our degree show. He used to be head of the University of the Arts and the Design Council too, and now sits on parliment. Or whatever the expression is. What an awful lot to achieve. He said that none of the politicians understand what design is. That left me feeling very dispirited. If that’s the case, we’re not represented. I voiced my fears to him after the talk, and he said a few names who might understand. I’m appalling with names.
He, and some others, said that because I’m young I ought to feel optimistic. I’m going to do all I can to change the way design is understood from outside of government, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed to find out that there is less hope for change from inside government. I thought policy was a good way to change things. But if the people that make policy don’t understand and won’t listen, what can be done from that angle?

Piers Roberts from Designersblock afterwards said that perhaps we might do something from the outside, which would be taken up by those in power as soon as they see the value in it (and then not give credit where it’s due).

Sir John Sorrel seemed to be a lovely man and said many interesting things – he does have some answers. One disillusioning thing he said was that government only respond to economic benefit. This is what’s wrong with our country.

He said that he employs 10000 people and pays a great deal of tax – as a creative entrepenur, he is a good example to government of how creative industries create capital.

What he is doing is getting kids in secondary schools to do Saturday classes in universities, so that they are inspired to perhaps study design. That was one line of thought. Others had a problem with that in that they want to see design more central in school, rather than taken out of it completely.

When there is a huge difference in opinion on the main issue, what can be done? Maybe just try both.

What can I do as a designer?

I don’t know. For now I will continue to learn more about the issue – I’ll just make sure I’m aware. And it’s good to meet these interesting people.

What can I do as a young person?

Try to have hope and faith that things will improve. And that my generation has the power to improve it. I’m not succeeding in being hopeful right now because I’m stressed out with my own work, and also because the more I talk to these people, the more I find that there is a big complicated mess.

Evening with Tony Hawks

May 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

What a funny, interesting man. I went to the Tony Hawks talk because I’d heard his name on the radio, and because it was an Action For Happiness event but I didn’t expect to hear such a story.

Years ago, he went on a month’s hitch-hiking trip around Northern Ireland with a fridge for a bet. The bet was for £100. The fridge cost him £120. When people found out the complete uselessness of this bet, they went out of their ways to help him. The point of it, after reflection, was to make the most out of every day. The fridge journey became a metaphor for life: starting, and ending, in Dublin. He took it everywhere with him. A great deal of time was spent in the pub. It got lots of drinks bought for him.

There was much wisdom to be gained from this trip, which he imparted. I was surprised at how openly leftist his views were. I’m not brave enough to condemn our material culture as publicly and firmly as he is. He said that he was going to vote Green – backed up with points about our environment and the long term effect of our material culture. The Green party are the only ones that will probably take serious action against it. My worry is that if you vote Green, it’s not going to count for anything. It will always be Labour or Conservative. Lib Dem have crushed any hopes now with Clegg’s poor performance in Parliment.

Some of Tony Hawk’s wisdom that appealed to me was the idea that not knowing where you’re going to be is ok. He kept his faith in the fridge on his trip, and didn’t know where he’d be a few days into the future. It’s not something I hear often from other people, but it is a personal philosophy of mine too. Knowing too much about where I’m going to end up traps and limits me. I prefer the unknown.

Similarly to my project, being with the fridge magnified his experience – it was a catalyst in the same way that my superhero costume was.

The first question to Tony Hawks was ‘What is the fridge in my life?’ The superhero is my fridge! I think everyone needs to find their own fridge. Tony Hawks gave an answer about religion – and yes, that’s a great answer, but not for everyone. Everyone secular needs to find their own fridge/superlook. Maybe I can extend the definition of a superlook to something that might be carried on your person too, something which is part of you but not worn.

Another question that was asked was what does he do to perk himself up when he feels down. His reply was to think of someone else rather than himself – when he is giving, he is never down. He said it in a way – when we are giving, we are never down. He said that people’s natural reaction when someone stumbles is to pick them up. I don’t believe that to be true. It’s good he said it, it’s good to promote a positive view of the world from his standing, but it’s not true. Just this morning, I dropped my things underneath someone’s legs on the tube and she made no move to help me, even when I left it there for a few seconds.

Also I have had the experience of giving too much, and it made me unhappy. I needed to give to myself, not to others all the time. It is possible to give too much.

Another question was ‘what is a little thing you do every day to improve your happiness?’ He didn’t have a thing he does, but I do: I smile at strangers. It’s something many of us can do to improve our happiness. It doesn’t always get a return – maybe it gets less of a return with him, maybe that’s why he didn’t mention it. Getting a low smile return can be hard.

What he said was instead of having a daily thing he does, was that he is aware of things he could do: that’s a point that has come up again and again in my project. Rather than seeking out something to do, be aware that it can be done, and do it when the opportunity naturally arises.

Maybe I should add that point to the journal. I also need to add that the well-being activity cards are a mixture of what I did as The Optimist and from my research into well-being.

All in all, Tony Hawk’s experience is an obvious parallel to mine. Maybe I should put it in my viva….

What I’ve Designed

April 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Film – communication of what well-being is

3D design – make-up box for superhero transformation (to aid confidence in stretching normal social barriers)

3D design/graphics – stickers for superhero trigger make-up and as memento of well-being superhero idea

Book design – guide on how to keep Five Ways of Well-Being journal

Card design – graphics, communication of conceptual idea, 3D, inspiration for certain kinds of behaviour. (Potential for a twin blank set of cards for people to fill in? Inc stickers for categories?)

Research methods – video diary of emotions related to activities, with analysis at end

Research method – acting as a character to find out more about self

New way of analysing well-being – user identifying activities that trigger emotions themselves, and through the frame of nef’s Five Ways of Well-Being, while becoming a superhero

Character – The Optimist, the first well-being superhero. Involved iterative costume design and make-up design.

Costume design – combinations of assorted clothes already owned, as well as designing and making a cape, tiara and cuffs. Tiara and cuffs based on Wonder Woman. Involved learning how to use a sewing machine.

Logo design – based on Superman. Learnt more about use of colour.

Make-up design – based on Wonder Woman comics.

Jewellery design – The Optimist earring. Not very good though. Used a type of card difficult to cut and nail varnish that made for a blotchy finish.

The Optimist make-up guide – graphics. Involved developing a process of scanning drawings and rescanning Adobe Illustrator versions of drawings, then colouring in sections on Illustrator.

Toolkit design – for how to become a well-being superhero. Objects in the kit evolved to complement each other. Sunrise and sunset booklet left out because it doesn’t work with the rest of the toolkit (apart from the activity cards – make sure to edit them before reprinting!)

Series of experiments within acting as The Optimist – mostly centred around being giving. Lending rose tinted sunglasses to a sad friend cheered them up. Offering Skittles as a prompt for conversation also. These two objects are now artefacts (I think).

Flash smile experiment – behavioural experiment to attempt to make people smile. It failed, showing that direct forced ‘trying to make people happy’ does not work. The more it was forced, the more the experiment failed. What works instead is being aware of giving things that can be done, and when the opportunity arises, to recognize it and do it.

Central to this all is the conceptual gearing of the project. What can a designer do to improve well-being? ‘Become a therapist’ is not a good answer because it defeats the point of doing design. Service design has been avoided for this reason – when a feedback loop between the user and the designer is created, it becomes service design. When this feedback loop is with regards to well-being, that becomes the service of therapy.

Rather, I have designed in order to remove myself in person from the user’s experience once they start the project (except to find out how successful the design is). I have designed a framework which users can teach themselves about their well-being. I present my experience as something that can be replicated. For each person there will be different results, but there are likely to be similarities in experience with other young women. A superlook helps – make up can help many young women achieve this. The giving activities that others end up doing may be different, but what I did (communicated through activity cards) serves as inspiration for the kind of things other people could start doing, before they develop their own behaviours.

The framework for analysis through the Five Ways of Well-Being is a particularly important part, even though it’s not about superheroism by itself. Without the rest of the toolkit, it could be used, but would not necessarily improve behaviour very well. It was a starting point for me. I realised that I could improve how much I was giving, taking notice etc, so I focused on improving these behaviours and the rest of the project emerged. It may work the same way for others, but I’ve made it much easier to start the journey with the rest of the toolkit. Well-being takes commitment – that’s the challenge – and the superhero element makes the journey more defined and ‘do-able’.

Why The Optimist make up makes a difference

April 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

This morning I didn’t want to get out of bed when my alarm went off. Still, I had stuff to do so I forced myself awake, showered, ate breakfast while reading about the Serbian conflict of 20 years ago and shed a tear, brushed my teeth, and put on The Optimist make up. I still wanted to go back into my warm bed but I had to leave.

As I walked to my bus, a man smiled at me but he had some bags with him, I suspected him of wanting to convert me to being a Jehovah’s Witness. I gave a half smile and hurried on.

I said good morning to the bus driver and more people than usual seemed to look at me on the bus when I got on.

At the tube station, the station lady stared at me as I walked past, and I smiled at her. I see her often at the station and we’ve spoken about tickets a couple of times. She didn’t smile back. The tube staff aren’t that friendly.

As I got on the train, a man stared at me. I sat down on the free seat next to him, and two old ladies opposite me smiled vaguely at me. Then I remembered I had The Optimist make up on, which includes bright red lipstick, and I realised why everyone was staring at me. I smiled back at the old ladies, and remembered I could interact more with strangers with this make up on and they would be ok about it.

I just missed the next train I had to get, and as a lady inside the train caught my eye, I shrugged and smiled, and she smiled back amusedly. I felt free.

Usually I do remember when I’ve put The Optimist make up on, but today I suppose I got out of the wrong side of bed and forgot about getting into character. However, people are treating me differently because of how I look, so their reactions are reminding me that I can be a well-being superhero. I can interact with strangers and it will be socially acceptable. And if I can do that, I can also do more superhero activities too, such as cheering people up and even helping people in need, such as that time I helped rescue a stiletto heel from an escalator in Holborn station for a tourist.

Even if I started out slightly grumpy, how other people treat me can make me change my behaviour. They treat me differently because I have made myself look different. I want to live up to their expectations. When people have expectations of me, it’s more easy to make the choice to aim to fulfill those expectations. They seem to expect someone with red lips to be very confident and extroverted. Extroverts interact more with others.

Making myself look bold with make up so that others have different expectations of me works well, but up to a point. If I’m in a terrible mood for actual reasons that I need to deal with, it doesn’t work. I feel like a fraud dressing up as a superhero in those circumstances. Thankfully, I’m in a life situation now where I don’t have that many negative life issues to deal with.
The make up does also work by helping me think about being a superhero when I put it on, but that bit isn’t the only reason. It’s about other people treating me differently, giving me a license to behave more extroverted. More interactions with people improve well-being.

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