Lexicon of Feelings

A participant creates her feeling definition

Aisha Dev, Kailin Dong, Katie Glass, Zhiye Jin, Soonho Kwon, and Jessica Nip

Originally published on Medium

An article detailing the development of Lexicon of Feelings, a project for New Ways To Think: Materializing Mental Health, September–October 2018

Project Summary

words are difficult to apply to everyone in the same way. We come from
different places, languages and contexts and each have our own
associations with the relatively narrow set of words we use to express
ourselves. How can we better express ourselves to others? How can we
find more clarity in the abstract?

Lexicon of Feelings
is an interactive installation that creates a space for people to
engage with their mental health in a non-traditional way. Through 5
different stations, people are challenged to use abstract words, shapes,
colors, textures, forms, etc. to bring clarity and understanding to how
they feel in the present.

installation aims to create new vocabulary to express feelings
associated with mental health. This is a participatory design project
that encourages everyone to create his/her own piece individually to
express his/her mental state. At the same time, every individual
“lexicon of feelings” contributes to our public community installation
to allow people to share their thoughts with others and gain insights.
Participants are encouraged to follow the guide below at each station:

How It Works / Our Stations

The Lexicon of Feelings
encourages people to reflect on their own mental health in a private
way while leaving a public artifact. Using different materials,
combining existing language, and creating a new vocabulary maintains a
sense of individuality and validates feeling that are difficult to
express. The Lexicon of Feelings creates a collection of new words that are deeply personal and unique, while also drawing parallels within the CMU community.

  1. Your Feelings In 3 Words 
    How are you feeling at the moment, today or recently? 
    Write down 3 words you are feeling
  2. Mash-Up!
    Mash-up, scramble your 3 words to invent a new word — your own feeling-language. Write yours on the line of the foam board
  3. What does your word feel like? Look like? Sound like?
    free to pick the materials provided and explore textures, colors,
    shapes, forms, etc. Show us what your word feel like and put the
    materials on your foam board.
  4. Annotate your “feeling definition” so others can navigate your piece!
  5. Pin up your vocabulary.


started the exploration process, by trying to understand some of the
difficulties with managing control over one’s mental health. A common
struggle is the inability to express a feeling or notion to those around
you. Existing languages are often insufficient to express deeply
personal and unique experience.

the exploration process we utilized a variety of materials in
combination with existing words to create a new representation of one’s
mental state. Each participate had the freedom to use whatever materials
or existing words to construct a new vocabulary which more accurately
represented what they were experiencing.

First attempts of activity by team

Group experiences in design studio

Insights & Learnings

The experience itself is meant to be individual and self-guided. We provided the materials and step-by-step instructions but allowed each participant to create what felt right to them. Although many of the participants worked at the same time, and those that did often drew inspiration from each other.

noticed during the process, as people could see the previous words that
participants created, they were able to draw parallels and relate to a
similar emotion. Although each final word was unique, and had a very
different visual aesthetic, there were several root words that appear
more than once including “anxious”, “happy”, “excited”, and “hopeful”.

of the participants noted that the process of assembling the board was
therapeutic. Similar to how many people use coloring books, knitting, or
other tasks to calm the mind. Likewise, choosing words to describe a
feeling or state of mind allowed the participants to identify and
pinpoint a particular mental state.

participants found it easier than others to think of root words, or use
the materials to create a complimentary visual. The audience that
participated in the process tended to be more visual, while those with
less of a design background, often found picking words to be the most
helpful. Although the materials and restrictions were the same for
everyone, each person created a uniquely personal word and
representation which related back to our hypothesis that the existing
language was insufficient to express certain aspects of mental health.