Increased Happiness Index: Reduced Stress With a Change of Design.

“Social problem-solving design” that changed our everyday life — stress-free design

Korea is the Republic of Stress. According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in 2016, over 90% of adults are stressed in their everyday life. In the 2016 Seoul Survey, over 53.5% of Seoul citizens responded they felt stressed in the past two weeks.

As such, stress is becoming increasingly generalized and chronic in the lives of contemporary people, but there is no definite measure to avoid stress. Based on this idea, the SMG planned “stress-free design” as a part of the social problem-solving design in 2016. By breaking away from the conventional method of improving the physical environment and providing material support, the SMG attempted a new public policy to take care of mental health. The purpose is to lower stress faced in each life cycle and situation and bring healthy life to individuals and society by improving factors that hinder the mental health of citizens through design.

The SMG surveyed the stress recognition rate of persons from teens to those in their 60s to select the targets of the first project. Contrary to the expectation, teenagers were found to be the most stressed. Diverse factors such as schooling, appearance, peer relationship, and home environment were found to be the causes of stress. The teenage years are when people experience sudden physical and mental changes. Many teenagers took stress to be more serious due to such specificity of the transitional period. Nonetheless, there were some cases that regarded stress to be unavoidable due to excessive studying and misunderstood that stress can be managed when they become adults. If teenagers fail to learn how to adequately manage stress, they can suffer greater maladjustment problems than other age groups.

Experts say that understanding and coping with stress in adolescence can have a favorable impact on mental health in adulthood. Accordingly, the SMG started to create stress-free zones to make healthy spaces for teens. Unused classrooms at schools were used for stress diagnosis, management, as well as meditation, music appreciation, and color therapy. Starting with “Youth Edition” in 2016, the SMG selected new targets every year that included “Subway User Edition” in 2017, “Youth Edition” extended in 2018, “Senior Edition” in 2019, and “Young Adult Edition” in 2020 and developed customized stress diagnosis design solutions. We introduce four projects evaluated as advanced cases of public design reflecting social demands.

- Development of Stress-Free Zone for Youth / Sinhyeon Middle School, 2016 (Youth Edition)

According to the Survey on Youth Health Awareness and Current Status (2014), teenagers showed emotional responses to stress by “enduring” (66%), “swearing” (13%), and “shouting or throwing objects” (6%). A design solution to accurately understand and solve the causes of stress was urgent. “Youth stress-free zone” refers to a space program to self-diagnose one’s stress and depression, learn how to resolve them, and implement and manage the methods. This solution went through a survey on all students and the surveying and analysis processes with interviews of students, teachers, and parents.


stress-free zone of Sinhyeon Middle School / Data provided by the SMG

The stress-free zone of Sinhyeon Middle School utilized space equaling the size of 2.5 neglected classrooms combined. Tablet devices were installed at the entrance path to allow students to self-diagnose their stress and depression status. The zone was largely divided into three spaces: “infographic bulletin board” with pictures illustrating the concept and management of stress; “self stress-free zone” for resting and therapies; and “social stress-free zone” for communication and play. Students can check important information using the bulletin board and diagnose their stress using the diagnosis program. 13 stress-relieving methods that can be practiced by students are presented based on the diagnosis results, and this space offers an experience for students to engage in the activities they want. In particular, the “social stress-free zone” for dynamic activities created the space using warm colors. Warm colors can arouse intellectual curiosity by stimulating the left brain and help persons with low self-esteem. The “self stress-free zone” used green colors. It was a choice to lower the stress index by making one’s mental status calm and comfortable.

Design effect evaluation results (evaluation agency: Korea Color Design Institute)

- The anti-stress index indicating resistance to stress improved by 34% in the left brain and 24% in the right brain.

- Some students showed a large increase of nearly 100% in the anti-stress index.

- Expanded Application of Stress-Free Design for Youth / Seoul Changshin Elementary School and five other schools (Youth Edition)

The “youth stress-free design,” demonstrated at Sinhyeon Middle School in Jungnang-gu and sponsored by the ChildFund Korea, was additionally applied to six other schools. The design was expanded to elementary, middle, and high schools and divided into general high schools and specialized high schools, including Seoul Changshin Elementary School, Seong Nae Middle School, Kyungbok Business High School, Kyungil High School, Mirim Girls’ High School, and Seoul Visual Media High School. This design was intended to reduce the stress of teenagers who showed a high stress recognition rate due to the excessive burden on school grades and competitive learning environment. The design was applied to various spaces after being proven to be effective.


Particularly, the “stress-free zone” for static activities applied green colors for calmness and stability, which help lower the stress index. This zone induces a calm and comfortable psychological state for resting and therapies. Based on stress self-diagnosis results, students can practice seven stress relief measures. The measures include relaxed music appreciation, color therapy, 6-minute reading, 10-minute daily nap, 10-minute focused coloring, aroma scent therapy, and 15-minute introspective writing.

“I thought of school to be an unfamiliar, cold, and confined space, but now it became a comfortable place.” — OO Yoon, a second-grader at Seoul Visual Media High School

“I would give a score of 9 out of 10 for the stress-free zone because it makes you think, ‘Why did they wait until now?’” — OO Jeong, a second-grader at Seoul Visual Media High School

As a result of demonstrating the youth stress-free zone, students showed very positive responses. Students even made suggestions on the expansion of the project at the Gangseo-gu Child Participation Committee Policy Briefing. The youth stress-free zone has significance in that it was planned out by reflecting the culture and emotions of students, taking into consideration the fact that there is no space for students at schools where students spend most of their time.

Design effect evaluation results (evaluation agency: Korean Trauma Association)

- Anti-stress index of the left brain increased by 13.7% and the right brain increased by 13.6% after experiencing the stress-free zone.

- The emotional quotient increased by 4.5%, and the brain quotient increased by 9.9%.

- The psychological stress level decreased by 27.5%, and the depression scale was reduced by 27.3%.

- Solution to Relieve Stress of Subway Users / Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station, 2017

Subway is the transportation means used most frequently by citizens of Seoul. Due to the high degree of congestion, the subway is depicted as a place that causes a great deal of stress. Particularly, subway stations crowded during the rush hour cause double the stress to commuters. Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station was the first station to be turned into a stress-free subway station. The SMG derived an appropriate design solution by analyzing the behaviors of subway users and discovering stress factors of each journey through various methods. The subway station required a design that would provide the information needed by passengers during the congested rush hour.


First off, information at the subway station provided in a supplier-centered way was made intuitive by approaching it from the perspective of users. Yellow stickers were attached to the floors in the section from Exit 1 to the turnstiles. The stickers contained a phrase that goes, “Please prepare your card.” This design was intended to reduce the waiting time caused by the bottleneck situation that occurs in front of the turnstiles during the rush hour. The design was also planned to allow passengers to transfer faster. The transfer section was indicated with arrows using colors of each subway line on the ceiling and walls. The arrows indicate names of key stations so that passengers can easily recognize the way they are headed. Additionally, a variety of designs were developed, such as “boarding waiting signs” for users to maintain order, “consideration zones,” and “congestion dispersion signs.”


A “stress-free zone” was installed to allow commuters to handle simple tasks and take a rest on the way from Lines 2 and 4 to Line 5. This zone was based on user opinions that they need to take a short rest or handle urgent tasks. Users can charge their mobile phones, talk on the phone silently, or handle urgent duties. Lastly, a citizen awareness campaign was promoted to reduce the inconvenience of passengers caused by the misconduct of others. 20 episodes of four-cut cartoons under the theme of etiquette were developed and printed on advertising panels on subway trains and 850,000 prepaid transportation cards.

Design effect evaluation results (evaluation agency: Hongik University SDE Lab)

- Wandering time and number of persons wandering in the station decreased by 65%, and the recognition rate was improved.

- After applying the signs, the number of persons waiting properly increased by 70%.

- The number of persons waiting in a proper position in front of the screen door increased by 70%.

- Solution to Relieve Stress of Seniors / Nowon Senior Welfare Center, 2019 (Senior Edition)

A higher ratio of seniors complains about depressive symptoms caused by interpersonal relationships and physical limitations. Older generations lack the willingness to express and resolve daily stress despite the worsening depressive symptoms. The SMG realized the seriousness of stress problems in seniors before developing depression or dementia and created a space for mental health counseling and relationship formation. Senior welfare centers, places frequented by seniors of 70 years or older as the point of contact for senior welfare services, were selected as targets.


The “Haesodang” stress-free zone was prepared on the first floor of Nowon Senior Welfare Center, the oldest welfare center in Nowon-gu, the district with the third largest elderly population in Seoul. Haesodang refers to a house where people gather and laugh. This space was to be perceived as a place to reinforce social relationships by meeting new people and closing the distance with one another. Haesodang diagnoses and analyzes the personal tendencies of seniors to match them with personalized programs. The programs are linked to psychological counseling services to suggest stress management methods and possible stress relief measures. The objective is to provide an environment for reducing the stress and depression of seniors and maintaining a healthy mind.


Stress-free zone for elder peole / Data provided SMG

The “stress-free zone” within the welfare center was newly organized by diagnosing the problems of the existing space and the stress factors of users. “Open Yard” is a space that encourages visitors to naturally communicate while facing one another. Plant therapy was applied to relieve stress by producing the sound of water with water culture and improving the quality of the indoor air. “Welcome Lounge” offering convenient counseling services at the welfare center was focused on increasing the accessibility and frequency of conversations so that visitors would feel welcomed and treated when visiting the center. Other spaces include “Mind Sharing Room” prepared as a professional counseling office to talk in a stable and comfortable setting and “Silent Library” to reduce stress through intellectual stimulations with books, music, and videos. In addition, each space was made to relieve stress by applying environmental factors such as oxygen generators, white noise, plant cultivation kits, and color adjustment. Haesodang will run various community activities and programs to help seniors form emotional and social relationships.

Design effect evaluation results (evaluation agency: Korean Trauma Association)

- Based on the brain wave test results, the self-regulation quotient (SRQ) increased by 24.1%.

- The anti-stress index was increased by 8.5% in the right brain, and the depression level decreased by 34.8%.

- The stress awareness level decreased by 36%, and the degree of satisfaction increased by 43.3%.

The SMG is developing a design to reduce the anxiety of the young adult generation standing on their feet for the first time in 2020 as a part of the stress-free design project. The plan is to create a community space model to relieve the stress of residents by utilizing idle space in youth houses. The SMG is also developing contracting, living, and community manuals in connection with physical spaces to help young adults standing on their feet or living in apartment buildings. Trial and error is inevitable to bring about new changes. Designs proposed by the SMG may not be able to overcome problems or show dramatic effects. However, we can get closer to “stress-free design” if people work together and share novel ideas. 

The SMG explains that the roles of design are no longer limited to improving the physical environment or making a cool space but include effective problem-solving. The recent “livable city” evaluation started to add systematic and qualitative indicators to cope with social problems in addition to the existing items on convenience and comfort. Due to the intricacy of social issues, it may be impossible to solve all problems perfectly. However, the SMG is preparing to take another leap forward through new design policies after overcoming realistic difficulties faced while carrying out previous design projects.

Category related contents
Hashtag related contents