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What is Positive Design?


“Life is best designed by planning backwards, with the end in mind. We then can experience happiness and joy through living the plan forward, with authenticity, intimacy, mental resilience and agility - balancing through life changes and innovating for growth "

- David M. Harris, founder



We have adopted Positive Design (a blend of Positive Psychology and Design Thinking) as a model for thinking about and implementing dynamic, informed plans to create a more positive path in life. This is not to say that life can just be planned; however, your life can have guiding principles and intentional moves towards positive habits of well-being. Positive Design focuses on understanding your story and unique concerns (empathy), contributing to testing new ideas and adaptations in life. This generative process is the core of a human-centered approach for living a positive, productive life. ThusPositive Design influences overall well-being as you create meaningful experiences, increase positive emotions, and pursue connections with people that enhance a sense of purpose and belonging. Following are summaries of the theoretical underpinnings of Positive Design.

Positive Psychology


Often credited as the "Father" of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania, says there are five measurable elements that contribute to well-being, human flourishing (P.E.R.M.A.):see video below 

PERMA - Theory of Well-Being


Positive emotions - how to feel good
Engagement - how to be fully absorbed in activities (flow state)
Relationships - how to be authentically connected to others
Meaning - how to lead a purposeful existence
Accomplishment - how to achieve

Design Thinking


Adapted from the dSchool work at Stanford University, Design Thinking, as a process, focuses on understanding client need as the core of defining, developing and implementing solutions.  It consists of five parts:


Empathize: Work to fully understand the experience of the client for whom you are supporting the design process.  Do this through observation, interaction, and immersing yourself in their experiences/story.

Define: Process and synthesize the findings from your empathy work in order to form a client-centered view that will guide your design collaboration.

Ideate: Explore a wide variety of possible solutions through generating a diverse set, allowing you to step beyond the obvious and explore a range of ideas.

Prototype: Transform the ideas into a concrete plan of action, learning and developing more empathy as you explore potential outcomes.

Test: Use observations and feedback to refine prototype ideas, learn more about the clients' adaptation(s), and refine the original client-centered view.


This concept is displayed below, coupled with an overarching process (divergence-convergence). This is a cyclical process that is repeated as often as necessary to achieve desired results.


Divergence: the phase where collaboration includes asking the right questions. This is an unpacking, insight-based process that is generative.

Emergence: the "Grow Zone" where diverse ideas cause a stretch for all involved in the design process. You often must stretch your bias to find new solutions.

Convergence: the action phase, a more focused implementation with desired results in mind.


Design Thinking and Divergent Convergent Model

Figure 1 - A Framework for Positive Design

Figure 1- A Framework for Positive Design

*Figure 1 - A Framework for Positive Design is an adapted representation of another way that we conceptualize designing and planning for human flourishing. This framework, along with a backwards design planning sheet (see more about design thinking and backwards design under Positive Design Coachingis used to help you create a success map - connected to your unique vision for the life you love.


(*adapted from Desmet, P., & Pohlmeyer, A. 2013 Nov 27. Positive Design: An Introduction to Design for Subjective Well-Being. International Journal of Design [Online] 7:3. Available:

We have also adopted the following manifest to represent our belief in the role of positive design as it relates to any form of human development that supports individual and collective flourishing (overall well-being).


Positive Design Manifest



Positive Design…. 

(1) creates possibilities

Positive Design envisions and realizes optimistic futures. Rather than merely reducing people’s problems, it offers them opportunities to improve their wellbeing.

(2) supports human flourishing

Positive Design uplifts people. It enables and inspires people to develop their talents, to increase their freedom, to deepen their relationships, and to contribute to their communities.

(3) enables meaningful activities.

Positive Design encourages people to balance pleasure and virtue. It stimulates people to engage in meaningful activities that are rooted in their deeply held values.

(4) embraces rich experiences.

Positive Design affects the complete pallet of human experiences. Beyond short-term pleasures, it focuses on lasting experiences that involve both positive and negative emotions.

(5) accepts responsibility

Positive Design is genuine in its purpose and intention. It takes responsibility for its short- and long-term impact on individuals as well as on communities and society.

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