About Mental Comfort Products, any idea?

I am doing my graduate thesis, which is creating a furniture line for lonely poeple. I am still doing research and I need some thoughts. Do you have any idea? Thanks so much!

I would suggest that you start by looking at people first. Some questions for you:

What do you mean by lonely? Elderly people? People who live alone and in rural environments? Homeless people who might live alone but in a big city? Children who are HIV + having lost both parents? A prisoner in solitary confinement? Or is it perhaps your own condition?

In what sorts of contexts does one find lonely people? Why are they lonely?

Maybe your first level of thinking might be to define “loneliness” - as opposed to say, “solitude.”

Most importantly, is loneliness a real condition - or is it a temporary mood? Is it worth designing something around? Why?

If you have the inclination, which you might not, read “On Walden Pond” by Thoreau…

Thank you so much for your thoughts, Cordy Swope. I really appreciate it!Here is my Proposal for my this Project. It might be too much. But the basic idea is to design furniture which can offer mental comfort to people. All kind of inputs are welcomed!

Going Home:
Creating a Furniture Line for Lonely People

In 1940, less than 8 percent of Americans lived alone. Today that proportion has more than tripled, reaching nearly 26 percent. According to the U.S. Census, 86 million people are single and 31 million are projected to be living alone by 2010. These findings about loneliness are significant because life-style changes have altered the structure of the family, the traditional source of emotional support. It is certainly true that in U.S., modern culture emphasizes the individual person, rather than the group or family. There is often pressure to be ‘self-contained’. Loneliness is a very powerful emotion. It can lead to depression, illness, even suicide. Although it may often afflict the old, sick or handicapped people, it is very common among young people too. Many more young people live alone, often away from family or friends because of work or college. The pressures of life may not leave enough time to make good relationships. Surprisingly, it is not only quiet, shy people, who may feel loneliness. A person who is the ‘life and soul of the party’ - always joking, laughing, and apparently outgoing, yet afraid to really connect with others, may also be very lonely. Although they may seem to have lots of friends, inside they are hurting. The loneliness becoming more obvious once they return home alone. For people that live alone, I believe their houses or rooms form a kind of family where there are no loving family members but a set of glassy-eyed furniture. Sitting in the couch, lying in the bed, watching TV, reading books…
How can these people overcome loneliness? Do they feel comfortable alone at home?
Three hundred years ago the word comfort meant to strengthen. In the 1700s we began changing that to the modern meaning of physical well-being. That theme began dominating furniture and interior design. Comfort is such a multidimensional concept. Today’s meaning of comfort is associated with the combination of the following: quiet, relaxation, relief, restfulness, satisfaction, amenity, cheer, complacency, convenience, enjoyment, happiness, peacefulness, pleasure, poise, snugness, warmth and more. From these words, we can see the meaning of comfort associated more with the mental than the physical. Comfort is a key concept of furniture design. It conventionally exists in the physical sense fulfilling such criteria as appropriate measures, ergonomic fit, and soft textile contact. Beyond this, can furniture provide the comfort that family members do?
Families can be described as unique, cohesive, interconnected systems that can provide source of strength. Most of us perceive this strength intensively and warmly when we were kids. Sitting on father’s shoulder, sleeping in mother’s arm, listening to grandparent’s stories…
I believe furniture that evokes sweet childhood memories can distract people from loneliness. How would you describe your childhood? Is it loving and caring, warm and sweet? Is it joyful and colorful, exciting and adventurous? Is it sugar-coated and rose-petaled, chocolate-rich and angel-blessed? Maybe you do not have such a dreamy childhood, but perhaps desire one. Sweet memories or imaginations are comforting to the mind, while warm contact is a physical massage. How then, can furniture – “the silent family member” be both?

Statement of Problem
This study is to investigate the strategies and the methods of designing a set of mentally comforting furniture for lonely people who miss the feeling of family.

Statement of Sub-Problems

  1. What kind of feeling between family members can provide mental comfort?
  2. How can furniture interact with the user similar to the interaction between family members?
  3. What aspects of furniture design would comfort a lonely person?
  4. What color, textile and materials can provide the most comforting contact to a lonely person?

Purpose of the study
The purpose of this study is to design a series of furniture that can provide mental comfort for those lonely people who miss parental and familial love by offering sensual contact, recalling their sweet memories or imagination then bringing more peace to their mind.

Significance of the Study
We are becoming an increasingly lonely society. According to an Easterbrook survey, the percentage of Americans who admit to “feeling lonely” has quadrupled since 1957. Feelings of loneliness strike over 36 percent of all Americans at least sometimes. According to a new Gallup Mirror of America survey, today one in ten adults say, they frequently feel lonely and one in four (26 percent) sometimes feel lonely. 40 percent are seldom lonely, while 23 percent claim they never face loneliness. And 44 percent of all women say they feel lonely frequently or sometimes, compared with 29 percent of men. The novelist Thomas Wolfe (1936) once said, “The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, particular to myself and a few other solitary men is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. We all experience loneliness at one time or another.” Loneliness is such a powerful emotion that can lead people to depression, illness, even suicide. Although it may often hit the old, sick or people with disabilities, it is very common among healthy people too. The causes of loneliness are complex and varied. As industrial designers, we can not solve the overall problem but I believe we can ease the loneliness in people’s lives through design. By surrounding oneself with emotionally comforting furniture, a designer can impact a person’s well being.

Limitation and Scope of the Study
The project is defined as an exploration of the mental satisfactions furniture can provide to users who miss parental and familial love. It focuses more on the mental comfort than physical comfort. Although this project cannot solve the overall problem of loneliness in modern day society, it can help people to feel more comfortable on a day-to-day basis.

There are 3 assumptions in this research:

  1. Furniture in the shape of loving family characters will comfort a lonely person who misses the feeling of family.
  2. Mental comfort can be provided to the lonely person by means of the five senses (touch, vision, smell, hearing and taste).
  3. It is a given that a person who feels lonely desires physical interaction, like hugging, touching, holding…

Figure1.1 “Hugging, holding and interacting”, Retrieved Sept. 22, 2004 from www.gettyimages.com


  1. Theoretical research:
    • Review furniture design books and journals from 1994-2004
    • Study loneliness and healing loneliness from psychological literatures from 1994-2004
    • Visit 3 mental Institutions to find the solution they have for the patients who suffer from loneliness
    • Interview 3 psychologists / mental healers (See the appendix A for the guideline questions.)
    • Interview 20 people aged 20-35 who have experiences of loneliness (See the appendix B for the guideline questions.)
    • Visually document (photos, sketches, videos) the positions and interaction between parents and kids as well as grandparents and kids
  2. Design concept and development:
    • Ideation: To generate ideas for later concept development. To envision and create possible interaction between the furniture and user
    • Sketches and roughs: To formulate the concepts and ideas by sketches
    • Concept evaluation: To get feedback from people who have lonely experiences and choose the effective concepts
    • Concept refinement and integration: Develop focused ideas into final product concept
    • Rendering drawings, Sketch model and full scale prototype: The storyboard and 2-dimensional drawings are used to create the initial figures for the furniture. The 3-dimensional model study enhances those figures with tactile information. The full scale prototype study provides measurable size for details of development
    • Color, textile and material study: Color study is to choose colors appropriate for comforting people’s minds. Textile and material study is for the purpose of determining how materials physically interact with the user in order to produce the most comfort
    • Technology study: To research the technology of furniture production utilizing the chosen materials in order to ensure the potential of the product being mass-produced
    • Prototype construction: When the final concept is decided, CAD and other computer drawing technologies are used to generate the exact size and measurement of the production in order to develop the final prototype
    • Usability testing: Gather 15-20 intended users to test the prototype. Encourage them to say anything that comes into their mind during the process. Collect the feedbacks by taking photos and recording videos. Document the feedbacks as a report and analysis it to adjust and develop the final design
    • Presentation Materials: To present the design process and the final outcome of this study, a multimedia presentation file will be made. It could be a web file launching on the internet

    Presentation of Outcomes
    Upon completion of the study, there will be listed outcomes:
    • Full scale prototype/ Scaled models
    • Design process booklet
    • Presentation file in PDF format
    • Create a web site of my findings

Byars, M. (1997) 50 Beds: Innovation in Design and Materials.
New York: RotoVision
Byars, M. (1997) 50 Chairs: Innovation in Design and Materials.
New York: RotoVision
Destefano, L. (1995) Lack of companionship at home cause for loneliness.
Monessen, Pennsylvania: Valley Independent
Francese, P. (Nov 1, 2003) American Demographics.
Graves, G. (1997) The Woodworker’s Guide to Furniture Design.
Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books
Johnson, P. (2000). Why Loneliness Is Bad For Your Health.
New York: Johnson Publishing Co.
Merritt, J. (April 25, 2004) All by Myself: The Fear of Loneliness.
Norbury, B.(1999) Furniture for the 21st century.
Watson, A. (2002) 50 Mod to Design in Color 1960s-80s: Memphis.
New York: Powerhouse Publishing
Wolfe, T. (1936), Retrieved Sept. 10, 2004, from

Yalom, I. (2001) Lying on the Couch.
New York: HarperCollins Publisher, Inc,.

Appendix A:

Guiding questions for interviewing psychologists/ mental healers:

  1. Is family support a great healer of lonely people?

  2. How do you heal the people with loneliness?

  3. Why do you choose your couch for your patients?

  4. What feature do you think furniture should have to provide most mental comfort?

Appendix B:

Guiding questions for people who have experienced loneliness:

  1. Do you have a memorable childhood?

  2. What is your favorite toy?

  3. Which family member you do love most?

  4. Which family member loves you most?

  5. Do you think of your family when you feel lonely?

  6. What position is the most comfortable when you are at home?

  7. What do you do when you feel lonely?

  8. What will leave you from loneliness?

  9. Please draw a picture to describe your most memorable childhood memory.

Any people would like to answer those questions, That will be very helpful! :wink:

An impressive set of facts that you have assembled here, as well as a very ambitious project. I like how you start out wide with the census data and then proceed inward from there. But I think that as you go inward toward perhaps animating that data, it becomes a little slippery.

I’d like to point out some dangers and maybe some opportunities - I hope you find them useful. I am challenging some of your assumptions the way I would challenge any of my students’ assumptions - there is no malice intended here.

First, I think that you will have to define your terms with more precision. e.g. Is “loneliness” and emotion, a clinical, treatable condition or a demographic group? What is “depression?”

Second, Is the idea of “feeling between family members” really a valid assumption? What about families that are dysfunctional?

Third, if you really must design furniture that is a sort of family/companion surrogate, then why go through the elaborate conceit of tying it to “loneliness” or its (as psychologists would say) affect, depression? I get the sense here that you already have your furniture designs in your head and are using “research” merely as a necessary step for justifying those solutions. Maybe you should entertain the possibility of having your project moved or changed by what you discover in research.

For people-surrogates, look at what these people do - http://www.realdoll.com/ Consumers of these will no doubt provide fascinating insights into a certain type of “loneliness.” Maybe also look at various virtual pets that seem to continually eminate from Japan. What makes them successful in that culture? What about studying people who search for companionship online?

You say, "As industrial designers, we can not solve the overall problem but I believe we can ease the loneliness in people’s lives through design. By surrounding oneself with emotionally comforting furniture, a designer can impact a person’s well being. ’

I am a little dubious about this statement, particularly if you are talking about depression. No amount of niceties from the external environment, short of medication, is enough to affect clinical depression one iota.

And finally, you might also do well to really think about your position as a designer in this project. Why would design - and namely, furniture design - be relevant in tackling this? I haven’t really seen a compelling enough reason in all that you write. We already have psychology and psychiatry. We have drugs. We even have the burgeoning field of bio-engineering. From the cells up | Science | The Guardian

I would hate to see your efforts in furniture design viewed as simply the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic. To truly succeed in what you have set out to do here, you must think as deeply about this as any psychologist who studies this area, and as compassionately as any caregiver who works in it. And on top of that, you will have to really come up with a compelling set of stuff when the ideal meets the real. These are not easy tasks.

A T-shirt I once saw read:

Theatre is Life
Film is Art
Television is Furniture

All in all this is an interesting starting point for a potentially rich project - I think right now you need to really attempt to understand people’s emotions and motivations so that you can define the sort of problem that you can really only solve with design.

I have to side with Cordy here.

No offense to the original poster, but you cannot hope to fix or cure what I would consider to be one of the basic needs on the bottom of Maslow’s Hirerarchy of Needs with an inanimate object.

Love Needs

Love and belongingness are next on the ladder. Humans have a desire to belong to groups: clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. We need to feel loved (non-sexual) by others, to be accepted by others. Performers appreciate applause. We need to be needed. Beer commercials, in addition to playing on sex, also often show how beer makes for camaraderie. When was the last time you saw a beer commercial with someone drinking beer alone?


If you are trying to solve the problem people face with loneliness, find a way for those people to be in the company/interact with others - don’t just give them an object that temporarily distracts them.

I think your whole thought process so far on the subject is flawed.

You’re trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.

I agree with a lot of what Cordy and designguyny have said. However I don’t think that this thesis is attampting (or should attampt) to cure anyone of their depression. Measurably relieving a symptom or two would be a sucess. I question the assumption that furniture will be the answer. With my experience with friends and relatives who have struggled with both short and long term depression leads me to refute Cordy’s statement that nothing short of medication will help these people one iota. Anyone fimiliar with such a condition knows that something as simple as a conversation with a friend, a sunny day or a good piece of music can raise someone’s mood. A project that harnesses such nuances could be very sucessful.
Good luck

As someone who has lived 5,000 miles away from my immediate family for 10 years, I wholeheartedly agree.

Diko,point taken about medication - I meant to say that short of proper treatment, clinical depression can be difficult to overcome. Also the remedies you describe are pleasingly diverse from a “solution” sense, and interestingly, not one of them has much to do with furniture…

nydesignguy, thank you for bringing Dr. Maslow into this. I’ve always felt that he should be required reading for all design students.

Dana, this is a lot to chew on, but you have selected a rich topic. Good luck

Keith Richards sang “Only a crowd can make you feel so alone” - those feelings of loneliness that the survey repsondents identified with don’t necessarily correlate to isolation, do they?

I am reminded of all these design/technology projects I’ve been seeing over the past few years - something CMU has been doing with a sensing or hugging pillow robot? Let grandparents hug their grandchildren through multisensory stimuli and fabric? I don’t remember the details - it was shown at DUX2003 - I’m sure you can track it down, but I’m sure that every design school has students pumping out this stuff. Let’s create huggable robots and electronic cooing pillows that will make old people feel happy again.

And yes, some of them have measurable effects in changing qualitative aspects of people’s lives, so I should curtail my attitude a bit, but I guess there are thoughtful approaches and there are less-thoughtful approaches.

I’m a bit put off by this proposal because it seems all over the place, and it seems to be predicated on a large number of assumptions that don’t necessarily follow.

I’d like to start with a larger social issue that your demographic and other studies point to. For example, people are living far away from their family, or people express feelings of isolation, or people are marrying later or something that you can go out and understand.

Find the people that fit your target - people who have reported a feeling, or who live in a certain situation - either way. Understand what are the actual aspects of the condition that are having the emotional impact and what things do they do to alleviate that.

For example - lonely people find solace in sharing common experiences that can be as simple as “did you see The Apprentice last night” - even if they don’t experience the common things at the same time, they enjoy reflecting on them together later (this isn’t a real piece of data, it’s just an example of the kind of thing you might learn from understanding the problem you are pursuing).

Then look at creating solutions for that: a notebook to jot down impactful experiences to further facilitate the next-day-water-cooler discussions (again, this isn’t a “good” solution - it’s just showing the link between understanding the problem, and then creating solutions to THAT problem).

Obviously this is a completely different approach than what you have proposed, but it could lead to some interesting solutions. The idea that People are Lonely - Must Make Furniture seems preposterous.

Thank you all for the links and thoughts. I will consider those carefully.
Here is my initial idea,
And here is the story… My father died when I was little. I miss the feeling of sitting on father’s shoulder so much eventhough I am grown. From my point of view. This piece of furniture can offer me sercurity, supportive and warmth.What do you think?
I have some more ideas and will share with you all later. Thanks again for all the input.

Nice concept.

I think that perhaps introducing the concept of clinical depression is confusing the discourse and over complicating things. No single piece of design (or any combination there-of) is going to be able to cure a serious mental illness, as I think you know. Research into depression will yeild a bottomless pit of cotradicting research and speculation.

I think the takeaway from Cordy is to define “loneliness” in this project’s context and design to eliviate symptoms. Is it everything up to and including mild depression? Is it just a temporary moment of feeling small in a big world?

Your initial concept is a nice initial take. Now that you have identified what this solution would be for you, perhaps you can investigate ways to make it more universal in its appeal and effect.

As the Jimmy Eats World song goes “I’m not alone cause the TV’s on, yeah”

Just wanted to keep the music theme going.

I recently purchased the bellow chair for its womb like qualities, I thought it would be great for reading, and it is going into a small room that has large windows on three sides so I wanted to add an element of protection:

My wife and I recently (2 years ago) moved across the country (she’s a therapist by thee way) away from family and freinds. She is an only child and being away from here parents was very hard. Complicating it even more she had trouble finding work for a year and her feelings about herself made it hard to connect and make new freinds. After much thinking, we tackled the problem with a 2yr old Dacshund named Louie. Sometimes what you need is something real.

keep us updated.

fem-bots -thats right fem-bots

Thanks, Yo! for speaking out something I want to say and sharing your experience.
And Thank for all other comments.
What I am trying to do is to explore more about the psychological aspect of furniture design by doing this project. Interactions, memory collection, familiarity, sense of security are some of the elements I want to integrate to my design. Maybe anyone can give me some more you think are keywords? Thank you!

I am gathering and reading some material about “Loniness” “Mantal comfort” “Psychology aspect of design”,I think I might redefine the “Loneliness poeple” later.


not sure if this is applicable… osim just came out with this music massage chair that massage according with the tempo of the music… more of a stree relieving kinda “furniture” though…

Thank you YO for your concern of my project. And Thanks edwindanel for your finding.

I think I have to define the furniture I am designing is not a therapy for depression poeple. it is for distract people from feeling lonely. The direction I might most likely go for is to make a piece of hybrid of big toy and furniture. It is about the memory of childhood, relationships, interactions, games, toys, food… What do you guys think?