Alarith Uhde

Design for Well-Being

Design for Well-Being

Design for Well-Being

              drawing of a man preparing coffee with a Bialetti coffee
              maker. The picture represents the psychological need of security,
              which relates to positive daily routines such as coffee making in
              the morning.

Technological innovation is not a logical process that leads to some fixed goal. It is always driven by individual interests and priorities. During the development process, relevant stakeholders highlight certain features they consider important, and they discard others. In a way, the user-centered design paradigm is based on this insight: Users are now considered relevant stakeholders, and that has changed design processes and technologies across industries.

Accordingly, new laptops, smartphones, or coffee machines do not simply create better and happier lives for people, just like that. They need to be designed for it. Design for well-being is an approach that focuses exactly on that: It is about designing technologies with the explicit goal to promote subjective well-being. Well-being does not "just happen" if we fix usability issues and create functional systems to solve a technical task. We need to consider it as a "function" on its own that we can design into things. This is the central research topic of my PhD advisor Marc Hassenzahl and my former research group. I have adopted this perspective as an integral part of my own research and contributed with some of my own work.

One of my application areas are individual time perspectives: How positively or negatively people view their personal past, presence, and future, independent of "objective" circumstances (such as the number and intensity of illnesses, parties, and relationships). The subjective view of one's past in particular is strongly associated with subjective well-being. Therefore, I have studied how people interact with different types of reminiscence technologies. Specifically, I have studied how people with different time perspective profiles look back at different types of positive memories using different media. Our findings indicate that especially people who usually tend to think more negatively about their past can profit from digital reminiscence tools, and that the way the memories are represented plays a crucial role.

Another project was a collaboration with Holger Klapperich on home automation. Holger argues that automation research is typically rooted in industry settings, where economic efficiency is the central concern. But priorities are different in the home: Here, people spend their free time, they do not need to be efficient with everything they do, and they may prefer less efficient but more fun designs. He designed a semi-automated coffee grinder, and I collaborated with him for the statistical analysis of his user research.

A young man using a semi-automated coffee grinder specifically
        designed to support psychological needs for competence, stimulation, and

My other research project on nurse-centered shift planning is also based on the design for well-being approach. We designed a shift planning process that puts nurses' needs and subjective well-being first, and designed other features such as efficiency around that. My current work on user experiences in social situations more specifically asks questions that come up when different people come together: Whose well-being should we design for? What can we do if one person enjoys their phone call but disturbs others nearby? How can we extend the current, somewhat narrow focus on the user only, to include a broader group of people? I am working on case studies and new design processes to find good solutions for these problems.

Publications and Resources

Time Perspectives in Technology-mediated Reminiscing: Effects of Basic Design Decisions on Subjective Well-being

Uhde & Hassenzahl (2021)

This paper describes two experimental studies, in which we analyzed how users with different time perspectives experience different reminiscence technologies.


Designing Everyday Automation with Wellbeing in Mind

Klapperich, Uhde & Hassenzahl (2020)

Holger Klapperich's research on designing home automation to support subjective well-being. This paper describes a case study of a coffee maker.


Positive Work Practices. Opportunities and Challenges in Designing Meaningful Work-related Technology

Laschke, Uhde & Hassenzahl (2020)

A workshop contribution that describes a worker-centered approach to designing technology. It includes short descriptions of two design cases: A communication system between radiologists and general practitioners, and a nurse-centered shift planning system.