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How to Create Hope Through Design

Consumers are craving comfort in an uncertain world. Here are ways to infuse your designs with optimism.

It can be difficult to feel optimistic about the future in these uncertain times, but the design world is doing its best to combat negativity and inspire hope. Hopeful design can describe projects, products, and architecture that aim to solve problems, improve society, and generally bring light and optimism into the world.

So, if you’re feeling a little despondent about the state of today, read on . . .

Two sets of hands reach toward each other with string intertwining on a off-white background
Image via contributor Master1305.

What Is Hopeful Design?

Hopeful design aims to deliver optimism, ambition, and an inclusive spirit into our daily lives through thoughtfully considered graphics, digital designs, products, interiors, and architecture.

In many of these examples, designers have focused on tackling one particular problem or have aimed to improve the lives of those excluded by mainstream design. While some of these designs offer mood-boosting features—such as color therapy and nostalgic styling—others provide life-altering solutions that make a serious impact on people’s everyday existence.  

Some of the areas of hopeful design making waves in 2022 include:

  1. Vitamin Color
  2. Child’s Play
  3. Design for Well-being
  4. Nostalgic Design
  5. Sustainability
  6. Accessible Design

Read on to discover more about each of these hopeful design trends, and see how they’re putting optimism into action. 

Wooden bowl in the foreground - olive green accents in the background including greenery and a wall
Image via contributor fotokop.
Portrait of beautiful girl with pink hair on a blue background, showing tongue
Image via contributor Yuliya Yafimik.

1. Vitamin Color 

Color is known to have significant psychological impact on consumers. Blue has been proven to calm while orange invigorates and green has healing qualities. In fact, color therapy (sometimes known as chromotherapy), which exposes users to colored light to affect their physical or mental health, is a widely used holistic method for helping to combat low mood or depression

In 2022, more designers are looking to the power of color to inject designs with a sense of hopefulness and optimism. In the same way that the bright colors of fruit and vegetables stimulate appetite, the bolder and more diverse palettes of design projects are meant to mimic the effect of a serious vitamin dose.

Companies like Apple are releasing a range of products that feature a greater diversity of color choices, and we’re starting to see a move away from minimal, Scandinavian-influenced palettes towards eclectic, sunny color choices that won’t fail to raise a smile. This multicolored trend is a quick and easy way to bring instant hope to your designs.

In the center a book with multiple bright striped colors surrounded by blocks of abstact color designs
Image via Slanted Magazine.
Six colorful postcards with abstract designs in two rows
Colorful postcards, the result of a collaboration between risography printing company Herr & Frau Rio and Slanted Magazine.
Six cards with colorful abstract designs on each on a teal green and off-white backdrop
Colorful vector backgrounds via contributor Plasteed.
Modern exterior of a bright & colorful office building in Milan, Italy in blue sky background
Image via contributor Stella Photography.

2. Child’s Play

You might have noticed that design products aimed at adults have started to look consistently more naive in form, shape, and color.

Simple geometric shapes, curved forms, and colorblock palettes were a strong trend in interior and product design throughout 2021. The style gives a nod to both the Memphis Movement of the 1980s, as well as design aesthetics usually aimed at much younger audiences.

Whether it’s a naively sculptural lamp or illustrations inspired by children’s drawings, these innocent and youthful design forms actually point to a wider trend, which looks to childlike reversion to offer consumers and viewers a feeling of cocooning comfort. When we want to escape the scary adult world, we can turn to the designs that featured prominently in our childhoods.

Why is this hopeful design? When we surround ourselves with childlike designs and objects, we begin to rewire our thinking to mimic that of children. We can be more open to new ideas, channel creativity without rules or boundaries, and view the world through new eyes.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that our interiors have to look like children’s playgrounds (although the aesthetic of Netflix mega-hit Squid Game purposefully goes there). Interior and product designers are combining childlike elements with more sophisticated (and grown-up) styling, such as teaming simple puzzle-like shapes with natural textures or earthy colors, creating the perfect balance of hopeful naivety and aspirational maturity.

3D wooden podium display with leaf shadows complementing the olive green background
Image via contributor fotokop.
Colored contemporary living room, pastel blue colors, sofa, armchair, carpet, tables, steps and potted plants, with copper pendant lamps
Image via contributor Archi_Viz.

3. Design for Well-Being

As technology becomes ever more integrated into our lives and homes, our own psychologies become more intertwined with tech products, apps, and websites.

In sharp contrast to recent reports of the negative effects of social media apps on our mental health—and particularly that of young people—more designers are looking to use app technology for more hopeful purposes.

While the pandemic forced millions into isolation, it was possible to manage this added strain on mental health and well-being through innovative apps that looked to improve issues such as stress, isolation, depression, and sleeplessness. 

Side-by-side representations of a mental health app called Note
Note mental health app, created by Paurali Patil and Nidhi Shah, uses color therapy as a key part of the design of UX layouts.

The success of these apps led to a huge upswell in the number of developers creating their own contributions to the well-being app market, and design is playing an increasingly significant role in their uptake and use.

Now, you can find an app for almost every concern or need, including anxiety relief and anti-insomnia aids, to name a few. You’ll find a wide range of psychological design techniques in action across this market, from the use of bespoke illustrations to create a more immersive user experience to pulsating gradients designed to mimic the effects of chromotherapy.

While these apps aren’t entirely altruistic in nature, with many relying on advertising or in-app purchases, they are on the whole both effective and largely free of charge, bringing therapeutic methods to a much wider audience. 

Colorful illustrations on five different cellphone faces demonstrating the Kensho well-being app
Calming illustrations provide the backdrop to well-being app Kensho, designed by Muskaan Gupta. 
Dark and light purple triangles in rows demonstrating the Liquid Moon sleep aid app
Liquid Moon sleep aid app created by Milena Pshenichnaya.

4. Nostalgic Design

Although this article is themed on looking forward, one of the most effective ways to inspire a hopeful attitude is to revisit the past.

Designs that were familiar to us in the past, and particularly in childhood, act like a soothing salve for world-weary minds. Nostalgia marketing has been used by savvy businesses for years, to foster an emotional connection between consumers and brands. 

Over the course of the pandemic, nostalgia-infused design became even more prevalent, as individuals turned to the familiarity of retro references to offer a sense of comfort and stability.

A variety of well-known brands have looked to vintage-influenced styling in their brand identities and marketing, including Burger King (who streamlined their ’90s era logo for the contemporary market), Coca-Cola (whose “Unbelievable Double Take” ad campaign used nostalgic sports moments for the NCAA basketball tournament), and Pizza Hut (who provided PAC-MAN-inspired pizza boxes to takeout customers).

In 2022, we can expect this nostalgic design trend to continue, with more brands looking to infuse websites, branding, and packaging with a throwback mood.

Revisiting designs that featured in our younger years is a guaranteed method to press pause on our fast-paced and technology-filled world. So, whether it’s furnishing your interiors with secondhand treasures or using a classic typeface style on a website design, there are ways you can incorporate the comforting feeling of nostalgic design into any project.

Pizza Hut takeout box with a PAC-MAN design on the top of the box
Pizza Hut’s PAC-MAN takeout boxes, which users could interact with digitally using a smartphone.
Three different Burger King logos side-by-side
Burger King revisited their original logo, blending the design with contemporary minimalist style, to maximize the brand’s nostalgic appeal.

5. Sustainability

No longer a word that appears on the fringes of the design world, sustainability has become an essential rather than optional standard adopted by many fashion brands, and other design sectors are swiftly following suit. 

In manufacturing and product design, groundbreaking initiatives in promoting sustainability are helping to set the tone for a more eco-friendly and hopeful future. 

For instance, Swedish startup Volta Trucks launched a sixteen-ton truck entirely run on electric power in the ambition to cut freight emissions. The innovative design also features a glass cabin, improving the scope of the driver’s vision and reducing traffic collisions as a result.

With plastic packaging having one of the most detrimental impacts on the environment, more businesses are investing in the creation of alternatives. Notably, Notpla developed seaweed-based, entirely compostable clear packaging. 

Photo of a Volta Zero truck on the street
Volta Zero—Volta’s first electric-powered truck—designed to eliminate freight emissions.
A woman's hand holds up a small pouch of water against a light blue background
Notpla developed a biodegradable and edible alternative to plastic packaging made using seaweed and plants.

Meanwhile, Norwegian furniture brand Vestre has become the first manufacturer in the world to declare the carbon footprint of all of its products in an effort to promote greater transparency around CO2 emissions in the furniture industry.

While there are still significant steps to take towards making mass manufacturing wholly sustainable—and plenty of instances of greenwashing to avoid—there are more inspiring examples of sustainability in design than ever, and that’s a good thing.

6. Accessible Design

For many decades, the web has remained largely inaccessible to disabled individuals. Finally it seems that web and app designers are realizing that by alienating these audiences they risk closing off the digital world to a large sector of the population, as well as excluding individuals from accessing essential services. 

In addition to incorporating accessible features into web design, such as incorporating detailed alt text for screen readers and using high-contrast type for visually-impaired users, more tech firms and manufacturers are taking significant steps towards making their designs more usable.  

Apple introduced AssistiveTouch and Hand Gestures features on their products, including Apple Watch. These features allow users to control the watch using hand gestures alone. 

A gif of a woman's hand wearing an Apple watch
Users can control their Apple Watch using hand movements without the need to press the screen surface.

IKEA, in collaboration with non-profits Milbat and Access Israel, launched the ThisAbles project, an initiative to develop furniture hacks that any individual can download, 3D print, and add to existing IKEA products to make them more accessible for disabled users.

The innovative hacks include an enlarged Mega Switch for making lamps easier to switch on, shower curtain grips and Cane By Me, which allows items such as walking aids to be stored by the user’s bedside.

A spotlight lamp sits on a white desk shining its light on a notebook and pencil
In collaboration with Milbat and Access Israel, IKEA released 3D printable “hacks” for some of their best-selling products, including the Mega Switch, pictured above, which is designed to make lamps easier to switch on and off. Image via dezeen.

Even the gaming world is starting to make progress with accessible design. Game developer Naughty Dog incorporated more than sixty accessibility settings into the design of The Last of Us Part II, making it the first AAA game that can be played start-to-finish by a visually-impaired gamer.

Some of the features include unique sound cues to help decipher the difference between different attacks or to help locate opponents, as well as a zoom feature, audio narration, high contrast mode, and adjustable text size.

Hopeful Design: Light at the End of the Tunnel

In uncertain times, it can be difficult to look to the future with optimism. But where there are problems, like social inequality or environmental crisis, there will no doubt be a designer hard at work trying to remedy at least one of them. Through innovation and altruism, the design world can make a difference.

Cover image via contributor Archi_Viz.

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