• Derek Lomas

Towards a Science of “the Vibe”

Feb 26, 2020

Over the past several years, over 40 masters students have gone out into the world to investigate a simple question: what the hell is “the vibe”? While the concept is used widely by designers and the general public, there was virtually no academic literature on the topic.

Can there be a science of “vibes” — or is the topic too magical, too “oogly-boogly” to study scientifically? In the history of psychology, there have been plenty of topics that have seemed too difficult to study– for instance, how can one scientifically study and measure a concept like beauty or emotions or mood? Luckily, at the TU Delft Human Centered Design Faculty, there is a long history of studying these difficult topics. For instance, Paul Hekkert’s 2017 “Unified Model of Aesthetics”, which has now been validated with hundreds of participants. This UMA model states how the maximization of opposites (e.g., unity and variety) yields maximal beauty.

But, to be fair, the science of beauty goes back to the very beginnings of psychology, when Gustav Fechner quantified the human aesthetic response to rectangles. Unfortunately, the study of “the vibe” doesn’t have that kind of track record.

So, without a strong theoretical basis, the Delft design students simply went out into the community and interviewed people. They conducted dozens of interviews with many diverse people, from architects to DJs to teenagers to retirees. With this data, students developed a variety of models describing the perception of “vibes” — and provided recommendations for how designers might “design better vibes.”

We are now in the process of combining these insights into a new booklet, “Designing Better Vibes.” The main topics discussed are listed below — we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about the scientific study of “the vibe.”

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