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Can good design help mental health?

Can design help Mental health?

As it’s Mental Health Week I’ve decided to delve into the subject area in conjunction with design. 

It’s a question that can be quite ambiguous really. Does it mean ‘can the actual effect of designing be good for our mental health’ OR can it be interpreted as ‘ can actual design or things that are designed help Mental Health? 

In this case I will be investigating whether the act of designing and being creative can help our mental health in a positive way. 

We’ve all heard of the benefits music can have on mental health and how music can elevate your mood and motivation. The same with exercise- it can release endorphins and helps trigger a positive effect within ourselves, but what about design and in particular good design?


4 notes books on a table with a pencil nect to 1 open one. The other 3 are behind the open one and are purple, pink and blue. On the open paged notebook there is a artistic sketch design of a head with a plug being attached to the back of the head.

What is good design? 

This can be dependent on the person and their particular tastes but more often than not good design is attributed to being effective and efficient in fulfilling its purpose. 

In the late 1970s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly interested in the world of things that surrounded him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” As a designer, Rams was aware that he played an important role in the world he was helping create, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?

Good design is subjective and can’t necessarily be measured. However Rams attempted to express what he believed to be the most important principles for design.

Here is a brief overview

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design makes a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design makes a product understandable
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is long-lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally-friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

These principles have become iconic and have inspired designers across the world



Large 3D paper head model in a workshop
Regardless of how you spend your time, as long as you are doing something you enjoy it can have great benefits for your mind, body and social life. 



Can this help Mental Health and our state of being? 

Everyone is different- which is great as a world where everyone is the same would be boring. We all have different likes and dislikes and we all find distinctive and diverse times to spend our time. 

Regardless of how you spend your time, as long as you are doing something you enjoy it can have great benefits for your mind, body and social life. 

Designing is a creative outlet for most and can be demonstrated in many ways or forms 

Drawing, painting, or molding objects from clay has been scientifically proven to help people to deal with different kinds of trauma. In a comprehensive article on The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health, Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel say that “It helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer.”

“ self-expression might contribute to maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity.”

Flexing our creative muscles has been proven to help people manage their mental wellbeing. Why is this? When we are being creative, our minds typically enter a state of flow; essentially, we become absorbed by what we are doing, and the creative act takes over our mind. Being in flow boosts our mental state and even slows the heart rate down, making it particularly significant for people who suffer from depression or anxiety.

The immersive nature of being creative can help you to focus your mind and control your thoughts – much like the practice of meditation. But with repetitive creative motions, the reward centres in our brain release dopamine; it’s this chemical surge that boosts your mood.

Dopamine, sometimes referred to as the feel-good chemical, is a neurotransmitter which acts as a natural antidepressant. When we engage in creative pursuits and the neurons in our brain start firing, we receive positive re-enforcement. So not only does being creative feel good at the time, our brains are essentially telling us to keep going.

Some people use writing as a way to navigate negative thoughts in a productive way but not everyone is a writer and this is where design and the process of designing can be of use. Designing (such as in the same way as drawing or writing can do for some people)  about  struggles a person is going through is a good way of expressing emotions or experiences that they are not able to verbalise or write down. The process is much the same as journaling; it’s an act that can feel painful in the short term but is highly cathartic and remedial in the long term.

The takeaway I get from this is that being creative (in whatever form that may take for you) can have a positive effect on your mental state. 

The immersive nature of being creative can help you to focus your mind and control your thoughts – much like the practice of meditation
A large 3D model of an electrical plug socket made from paper

So why is it that in recent studies it has been found that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health issue each year but for those working in a creative role the likelihood of developing such issue is three times greater?

This doesn’t make sense? 

In a quote on the BBC’s website Peter McBride of charity Inspire, who commissioned the research, said people who are creative are likely to be “more in touch with their feelings. That can mean they sometimes experience things differently or more deeply than other people, that’s part of their craft”.

Whilst that’s a broader view, there’s no denying that the creative life can be stressful. Constant deadlines, the pressure of pitching and an unhealthy culture of long hours. Although a lot of companies and employers do support and ensure the mental wellbeing of its employees are met unfortunately some don’t. 


This is where it gets a bit murky and confusing or does it? Surely doing something you love and having a creative outlet is a good thing for mental wellbeing? Maybe it’s all the added extras that stress us out? The majority of contributing factors in the creative life aren’t actually anything to do with the actual job but all the things that come with it? 

The actual physical act and process of designing can be relaxing and potentially stress free but when you are given the additional added pressures (which some can argue is all part and parcel of life) this can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. 

Feeling stressed? Here are some of my favourite well-designed products that can help with our mental health issues (whether you work in the creative world or not!) 


Emotional First Aid Kit- Rui Sun

Made up of 5 objects that are designed to help in times of mental distress.  

Made up of the following: 

Purple Breathing Mask which emit calming scents when breathed in by the user allowing them to think more clearly when overwhelmed. 

The Indigo Third Eyeglasses which comprise of 3 lenses to remind the user of their ‘third eye’ and look at things from a different perspective

The blue stress buster is a portable speaker that visualises sound with blue ink 

The green meditating Stethoscope calms you down if you get involved in a argument. It allows you to tune into your breath and meditate. 

Finally a yellow confidence booster is a light padded jacket that helps people who ‘lack confidence to solve dilemmas or address a situation


Mindnosis by Sara Lopez Ibanez

Sara Lopez Ibanez created a self-assessment kit to support those with mental health issues similar to her own. 

Known as Mindnosis it allows the users to discover the type of help they need, and where they can get it from. It includes a set of eight activity cards that combine mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy techniques (CBT) and tips from peers to help users when they feel unwell.