Theory of a design goal:

Attractiveness of a Product

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When discussing attractiveness of a product the first question is: do we accept the object of study as it is, or do we wish to improve it? In other words, is our study descriptive or normative? These two approaches (which are further discussed elsewhere, under the title Preparing Design Theory) lead to different conclusions and theories, and they also require different methods of study.

Descriptive study of attractiveness

Attractiveness is a characteristic of products not easy to study, because it is fairly general and vague, too. The same is true for related concepts like "desire", "need" and "pleasure". The content of any of these depends quite much on the situation, which makes it difficult to try to create a general theory of them. Such an attempt was, nevertheless, made already in antiquity by Epicurus (342/1 - 270/1), who thus became the father of the hedonistic school of philosophy (hedone = 'pleasure' in Greek).

In early 19 C, so called utilitarian philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill studied various components of pleasure, mapped out their relationships and tried to create models for them, or for utility in general. Mathematical models for the same purpose, or the theory of utility were a little later presented by Daniel Bernoulli, Vilfredo Pareto and others.

The first researchers tried to analyze theoretically the concept of attractiveness. Empirical studies on these questions started in late 19 C in the laboratories of psychology, notably by Georg Th. Fechner who experimented with various geometric patterns and tried to find their relationship with aesthetic pleasure. He laid the foundations for the modern paradigm of perception psychology.

Perception psychology deals with human senses, each of which can generate a feeling of pleasure and attraction. Below is a list of human senses and examples of products which are particularly concerned with the mentioned sense.

Channels, possible for a solitary person, of getting pleasure from a product:
Channel of perceiving attraction Examples of products where this type of attractiveness is important
Vision Pictorial works of art. Refined products. More examples: see Beauty Of products.
Hearing Drama, music, and the instruments involved thereby. More examples, see Semiotics.
Senses of taste and smell Culinary art and instruments.
Senses of touch and movement Sports equipment. Clothing. Vehicles. Furniture, especially for relaxing.

Beside the mother sciences of physiology and perception psychology the table above mentions some now established paradigms i.e. traditions of study, each of which specializes in a certain mode of sensory pleasure. First to appear among them is the science of beauty, aesthetics.

Sensory pleasures are mostly if not wholly innate mechanisms of man. They work on a physiological basis which does not much vary between people, their tribes or their spheres of culture. When selecting a method for their study, researchers therefore seldom bother doing laborious surveys in the field but instead count on experiments in a laboratory.

However, there are also other pleasures of man which do not emanate simply from our senses but from a more complex system: from living in society. Below are examples of these.

In society possible channels of getting pleasure from a product:
Channel of perceiving attraction Examples of products where this type of attractiveness is important
Desire to learn, know and comprehend. TV. Telephone. PC. Instruments for education. See also Beauty of Discovery.
Sexuality. Clothing. Perfumery.
Co-operation. Telephone. TV. Tools. Playground equipment. See also: Developing an Activity.
Competition. Desire to get appreciation. Clothing. Dwellings. Vehicles. Sports equipment.

Mother sciences for this group are sociology and psychology which have given birth, during the past century, to an extensive series of more specialized paradigms of research. Some of these, having some relevance with products, are mentioned in the table.

Because the modes of pleasure and attraction listed in the latter table are born in the complex system of society, they are often understood quite differently in dissimilar societies and spheres of culture. If a researcher wants to discover any general and invariant structures in them, valid in several or all spheres of culture, he has to gather material from more than one country or community of people, i.e. field studies are necessary.

First field studies of socially originated needs and pleasures were made in early 20 C in the field of anthropology. Bronislaw Malinowski studied the succession of needs which he found emerging gradually in evolving, primitive societies. Abraham Maslow thought that the same principle of successive needs governs even our behaviour in contemporary societies.

Later researchers have proposed a great number of different models for describing the relations or hierarchies between the various pleasures of using products.
Shackel's modelTurkka Keinonen has paraphrased some of these recent proposals, which review can be found elsewhere under the title Usability and emotions.

An example of the models where pleasures and needs related with products are arranged as a hierarchy can be seen in Brian Shackel's (1991, above) diagram depicting the principal dimensions of product acceptance. Its explanation can be found under the title Usability as a measurement.

Nielsen's modelAnother similar example is Jacob Nielsen's hierarchy of product acceptability, on the right. Its explanation. Also Patrick Jordan has lately (2000) developed a theory which purports to include all the "pleasurable" aspects which can be fulfilled in industrial products.

And finally there is the structure of typical goals of product design, used as the arrangement of the pages belonging to the Arteology site.

Normative study of product attractiveness

Normative studies aim, not just at describing, but also at improving the present state of things. In the case of products this could mean improving an existing product like a building, and indeed many studies have been made to guide the refurbishing of an old building. However, more common is that we expect normative research to give a basis for the design of new products.

When designing a new product all the characteristics of the future product are elective and you are free to choose among them the most attracting combination that you can find. In other words, you can and you should consider simultaneously as many characteristics of the future product as possible. The task becomes complicated because higher attractiveness usually means also higher costs, and you have to choose the right level for them.

Quite often many characteristics of attractiveness are interdependent and you cannot manage them without first finding out the nature of the relationship. The descriptive models, some of which were discussed above, can alleviate this problem if they are available. Moreover, there are strategies which can help you to manage a great number of requirements, like:

When the delimitation is carried out at its extreme, the study concerns just one product, let it be either an existing or a future one. The latter case means normal product development which is discussed on a separate page. The range of products to be studied is limited to one, but in the other dimension your vista will stay unbounded because in new design you have to consider simultaneously all the aspects of attractiveness. Typical situations in a product development project where you have to think about several different goals, are Strategic Design, the task of creating a Product Concept, then the physical Design or shaping the product, and finally Evaluating a Design Proposal.

Time perspective. Products are things which exist for a time, but the pleasures or attractions concerning them seldom stay constant during this time. The life span of a product often includes several distinct phases, which perhaps should be studied separately:

New product development is not the only activity which can benefit from normative research on the various attractive properties of products. Other, albeit not quite so common, normative applications are the development of regulations issued by public authorities, and also development of standards and norms. These procedures are discussed under Format of Presentation of Design Theory.

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August 3, 2007.
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