I have a tweed blanket that I take with me when I go camping. When I use it at home I’m reminded of special camping moments and the friend who made the blanket – it’s become one of those objects where the emotional attachment is more important than its practical use. This got me thinking about the endless factors at play in forming an emotional connection between a user and an object.
Liz Sanders, founder of MakeTools, highlights three functions of a product:
My blanket performs the first two of these well – not hard for a blanket – but it’s the third that makes this object special to me. The “feelings of pleasure” are what make an object desirable and create a true emotional connection.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines emotion as “a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others”. I believe these “strong feelings” develop through sustained interactions, where the sum total of many positive moments leads to a positive relationship and an emotional connection.
Desire is a less tangible factor in the connection between user and object than usability and functionality, but arguably more powerful. So the challenge for designers is to create this desire.
Whether it’s an exciting, calming or interesting presence, a beautiful object has the power to change the atmosphere of its environment and stir emotions in a user. While beauty may be subjective it is not created by luck. Beauty is something that can exist in the physical design, perceived by the user from the moment they see an object or as an appreciation that’s built up over time.
Feelings that objects evoke through memory and positive interaction are beyond the control of designers, but what we can do is plant seeds for a long-lasting relationship. Good products are used over and over again, providing people with a collection of memories associated with the product. These memories are the basis of a strong bond.
A designer must be tuned into the factors that make something aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to use – proportions, material choices, details – all things that subconsciously affect how a person feels about a product and the relationship that evolves over time.
Another way to create an emotional connection is to attach meaning to an object. A user often connects with a product because they have bought into an idea and a desire to be part of something; something they feel represents them and their identity. Companies such as Patagonia portray certain brand values through their products, such as a concern for the environment, a dedication to simplicity and an adventurous spirit. People who buy them are also buying a little piece of this philosophy. If an object can evoke positive emotions, perhaps signal some alignment with particular values or a lifestyle, then there’s a more of a chance of establishing long-term emotional engagement.
When security specialist Verisure asked Design Partners to collaborate in curating their entire design identity, we immediately understood the importance of developing an emotional connection between users and the brand. So we set about creating a design language that gave people peace of mind, helping form a positive relationship with their home security system. Key to this was a form factor that works across various product architectures while still being empathetic to the personal space of somebody’s home.
What we have become very good at, through this and other projects, is putting ourselves in the mind of the user and trusting our instincts on what makes a desirable product. It’s a bit more sophisticated than my blanket, but the emotional connection is just as important.
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