Designers and the value of emotional meaning

Our design consultancy  of “travelers” can enrich a companies’ products by holistically teaching emotional designing, creating market advantage.

By Sophie Brenny and Marjolein Wintermans 

Part 1: What and Why (meaning of)
Part 2: Who and How (positioning)

I) The Strategic Value of Emotional Meaning

The Evolution of the Meaning of Industrial Design

mass production

Mass production [1]

The value and uses of Industrial Design has changed a lot since the Industrialisation period in the 19th century. The past is defined by the evolution of mass production and fifty years ago by user satisfaction.

Currently we are in the digital revolution. Focus on services has appeared but is very general. We see this as a dehumanizing event as it is individualistic. In other words user-centred in a non-physical and impersonal way.

We see a trend that is developing towards the need of open processes, and a departure from mass production towards emotional and meaningful production. An evolution of services and products that will grow into a personal, social physical network resulting in an increase in emotional meaning.


What is Emotional Designing and Emotional Meaning?

An example of the use pf the product being chosen over the face-to-face contact

An example of the use of the product being chosen over the face-to-face contact [2]

Consumers are complex beings. Each is unique because of their thoughts, emotions, attitude, beliefs and culture [3].  Memories and past experiences shape our overall impressions.

Individuals choose and use products because of these aspects of their nature [4]. As Pieter Desmet says:

“Even conventional products such as mobile telephones and fabric softeners can evoke complex and layered emotional profiles [3].

This could be translated as emotions being the ultimate reason people buy a product [5]. Emotion creates a dialogue between a consumer and a product or service in a specific context.

It is important to note that you can’t design emotional meaning but you can trigger it. [4] According to us this means humanizing the product or service will generate enjoyfull experiences.


Why is Emotional Meaning Relevant?

Why are emotions relevant for businesses and designers?

Why are emotions relevant for businesses and designers? [6]

“Emotional attachment to products can encourage people not to discard a product” [Desmet].

People value it more, which means that the products lifecycle is prolonged.

“When low prices is the result of meaningless cost cuts, then the consumers clearly feel miserable and envious of more meaningful and valuable products” [4].

Creating personal products that fit a consumer’s identity makes them feel understood.

When there is emotional meaning and attachment to a product it creates a competitive advantage. Desmet states that

“Some products are more exciting than others, and this experience of excitement is often seen as something that should be strived because it motivates customers to prefer one product over another” [5].

Positioning of a Design Consultancy (DC) in the model of Kano [8] [10]

Positioning of a Design Consultancy (DC) in the model of Kano [8] [10]

Meaningful products and services create an increase in customers, customer loyalty and brand name. This in turn increases the revenue for the company and creates a high valued competitive advantage that cannot be successfully duplicated [4].



II) Positioning Ourselves in this Strategic Value

Who are we as designers?

Who are we as designers then?

Who are we as designers then? [7]

To position ourselves in relation with this discovered strategic value, we see ourselves as a Design Consultancy. The skills that we would need to achieve this role are varied.

First of all the designer need to be empathy-driven. This links to the second necessity, which is being a good correspondent between various branches of a company and disciplines. If needed the designer can be the translator that ensures each part of the company understand each other. This can be connected to a way of thinking which we call “the traveler”.

This is a designer who dares to experiment, explore and is able to trace and communicate the design process from both an involved and holistic view. As such, our role as emotionally driven travelers will be to inspire and guide small companies (3 to 10 people) in an early project initiation.

The importance of the mentioned roles was confirmed when talking to companies during the “Bedrijvendag” at the TU/e on the 26th of February 2013.

Companies interested in Industrial Designers stated that their holistic skills and their ability to communicate and translate between different branches and disciplines was key. It was also seen as a great resource that designers communicate with users and understand them on a more personal and holistic level.


How would we use the Defined Strategic Value?

Our envisioned process [8]

Our envisioned process [8]

Being empathy driven, as travelers, it is our opinion that face-to-face quality time is imperative. Therefore a simple telephone call would be too impersonal in our envisioned total process. Instead, we would use various physical touch points that would have different focal points.

For instance, start with a general contact aimed at intriguing a firm, which could lead to a meeting where we would explain in detail the “why” of emotional designing. This would than be followed by us organizing a workshop to teach them methods and a concluding consult.

Since we find it important that the companies apply and become immersed in the theory, we would give them hands-on exercises. One possible example is letting them choose an existing product and combining it with a or several emotion(s) [9]. We would want to implement this as a rapid 1 hour session. The goal being for employees to understand how they can apply such a tool into their own New Product Development (NPD).


Quoted sources

[1] Brenny, S. (2010, 05). Bicycles at the Amsterdam Central Station.

[2] Anna. (2012, 07 31). The ugh is silent. Retrieved 02 28, 2013, from blogspot:

[3] O.Demirbilek, B. (2003). Product design, semantics and emotional response , Ergonomics. University of New South Wales & Loughborough University, Leicestershire, Faculty of the Built Environment, Industrial Design & Department of Design and Technology. London: Taylor & Francis.

[4] R.Verganti. (2009). Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean. Cambridge, Massachusetts, the United States of America: Harvard Buisness School Publishing Corporation.

[5] Dijk, P. M. (2007). Emotional Design; Application of a Research-Based Design Approach. Springer Science + Business Media B.V.

[6] Tamila. (2013). Mood. Retrieved 02 21, 2013, from Good Fon:

[7] Wintermans, M.(2) (2013, 02 21).

[8] Wintermans, M.(3) (2013, 02 28). Graphics

[9] D.Mcdonagh-Philp, & C.Lebbon. (2000). The Emotional Domain. Loughborough University & Royal College of Art,, Department of Design and Technology & Helen Hamlyn Research Centre,. Berg Publishers.

[10] J.M.Spool. (2011, 01 18). Understanding the Kano Model – A Tool for Sophisticated Designers. Retrieved 02 28, 2013 from user Interface Engineering:


Malicious sources

[11] C.Leadbeater, J. ,. (2008). Making it personal. (J.Pickard, Ed.) London, United Kingdom: Demos.

[12] E.Bohemia. (2002). Designers as intergrator: Reality or rhetoric? University of Western Sydney . University of Western Sydney .

[13] F.Secomandi, D. (2011). The Object of Service Design . Massachusetts Institute of Technology . Massachusetts Institute of Technology .

[14] Fatima, P. V. (2011, 10 23). Emotional Product Design. Kancheepuram, India.

[15] G.Calabretta, G. N. (2012). Collaborating with Design Consultancy Firms for Effective Strategic Decision-Making in New Product Development . Scientific paper, Delft University of Technology, RMIT University, Melbourne,University of Amsterdam

[16] Gardner, J. (2009, 10 13). Emotional Design . 44. San Diego, California, USA.

[17] H.Perks, R. C. (2005). Characterizing the Role of Design in New Product Development: An Empirically Derived Taxonomy . University of Manchester Institute of Science and Tech- nology , Manchester School of Management. Manchester: University of Manchester Institute of Science and Tech- nology .

[18] Mager, B. (2012). Service Design as an emerging field in Designing Services with Innovative Method. Retrieved 02 25, 2013, from Service Design Network:

[19] P.Desmet. Measuring Emotions. Delft University of Technology , Department of Industrial Design . Delft University of Technology .

[20] S.Fokkinga, P. (2012). Meaningful mix or tricky conflict? A categorization of mixed emotional experiences and their usefulness for design. International Design and Emotion Conference London (p. 14). Delft: Out of Control.

[21] S.L. Vargo, R. L. (2004). Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing . American Marketing Association . American Marketing Association .

[22] Schmiedgen, J. (2011). Innovating User Value The Interrelations of Business Model Innovation, Design (Thinking) and the Production of Meaning – A Status-quo of the Current State of Research. M.A.-Thesis in Corporate Management & Economics, Chair of Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship, Department of Corporate Management & Economics, Potsdam.

[23] Spillers, F. (2009). Introduction to Emotional design. Portland, Oregon, USA.

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