Attaching sentimental value to things : emotional design’s key role

Do you remember how you felt when, as a child, you were playing with the very first toy you could choose yourself? Did you feel happy and energized? Was it because of how your toy looked, felt, sounded and smelled? Isn’t it interesting how an inanimate object can evoke such pure emotions at the single thought of it… even years later?

The reason of this post is that I’ve just randomly stumbled upon an old pic of me holding one of my favorite dolls, I immediately felt nostalgic… in a good way! Wouldn’t it be nice to have this genuine feeling of happiness every time we use a product? Whether it be clothing, home furniture, decorations, appliances, transportation, or anything else we use in our daily lives.

When feelings influence shopping patterns

With time, maturity and an awareness of my personal preferences as a consumer, I have come to realize that my shopping patterns or tendencies are most times driven by my emotions or mood. As much as I would like to say that I’m a savvy shopper or that my buying decisions are made rationally, or are driven by the quality of the product I am buying or having necessity as the sole purpose for my purchases, I can’t deny that sometimes my decision making are greatly influenced by how I’m feeling.

If I’m feeling sad and emotionally in need for something uplifting, my senses will likely be attracted to bright and colorful objects like balloons, toy clowns, colorful throw pillows, cheerful coffee mugs to kind of cheer me up. To me, bright whites, reds, blues and yellows easily capture my eyes’ attention, even though I wouldn’t necessarily buy something right away.

In any case, I’m definitely the type of consumer who chooses items that I want to keep “forever”… at least for several years! I like to think long-term and consider decorative items as “investments” rather than merely impulsive purchases. Hence the “potential” for sentimental value that I’m always looking for into an object.

Neuromarketing, anyone? 🙂

We all are aware that today’s marketing campaigns take advantage of our emotional needs and vulnerabilities to draw us in to their products.

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but why can’t more product designers be more sensitive to the human emotions evoked by the objects they design. Why can’t a designer table evoke the same happy feeling the same way a simple wooden block of letters does in a child?

Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the objects we buy and use genuinely drive human emotions instead of being artificially fabricated or subconsciously planted by marketing campaigns? Wouldn’t it be nice to have objects created with thoughts for carrying sentimental value in addition of their form and function?

These days we talk a lot about being environmentally conscious or environmentally friendly products. As important as technology products are to our lives, I think it’s important not to lose sight of us as emotional beings; I feel that the products we are exposed to these days have taken away the sentimental value or that “emotional experience” we once had in our early years of life as kids. Given, that as we mature, our taste or preferences become a bit more sophisticated, and this can range from a variety of objects from clothing, to home furniture, appliances and electronics, jewelry and even art, the emotional experiences of joy, desire, love, power in the things that we acquire, I feel, should always be present.

The importance of emotional design

I learned from graphic design that, visually, colors can be used to represent for example qualities such as power (red), friendliness (blue), intelligence (yellow) and calmness (green). If colors can be used to suggest these types of feelings or qualities, I feel that shapes and the materials also can be better used in such a way as to naturally bring other expressive qualities. I think art pieces are great examples of using shapes, materials and colors to promote emotional awareness.  In many ways, combining art with design provides a “sentimental” value to the products we ultimately buy and use.

I’ve realized that most of the concepts and theories we were taught were mostly concerned with the form and function of a product. In graphic design, principles of contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity are discussed to produce visually interesting images. Industrial design courses appropriately cover theories of product design and design processes from ideation, through concepts of modelling and mock-ups to manufacturing processes and even engineering.

If we look at any form of media today, magazines, radio, television and internet, I think we can find a commonality in terms of how they attract people to buy what they are selling; these marketing campaigns somehow, someway tap into our human emotions-of sadness, of wanting to feel good, feeling of desire or wanting to feel desired, feelings of love, sexiness, feelings of power and ambitions and using these to effectively lure people to become consumers of their products.

Every day we see and use different things and I’m sure we are already having some types of feelings we associate with them. For example, a dark brown wooden chair naturally gives me sentiments of warmth, comfort, and calmness. On the other hand, a polished aluminum curved or stylized chair would provide completely different feelings which to me, would be feelings of “coldness” and power. How about a combination of wood and aluminum then? (KALAMIRA Masks… Hint hint 🙂 )

Of course, this is open to individual interpretation but it makes that everyday object even more interesting and valuable.

So, I think there is value, sentimental value, in being more aware in how products make us feel. As such, there should be greater awareness in the use of materials from plastics, to wood and metals; from the way, an object looks by its linear or curved or irregular shape or colors; from the way, it feels to the touch using texture; I think a product designed with an awareness to it sentimental value, would ultimately have more durability and more meaning to the consumer