Design Research


I’m currently doing some research into design at the moment and was wondering if any one could answer some of the following questions?

Firstly, thinking of the emotional attachment you may have with physical products, could you see yourself having the same attachment to digital media?

Secondly, do you think more and more people are becoming attached with digital products over analog ones?

Thank you

  1. I think so. I know when we first changed the design on this page, it was the first update we had done in years. It was definitely hard for me to adjust to.

  2. I think this will happen once the technology stops evolving so rapidly. I have the first gen iPhone. I like it a lot, it feels like it is mine, and I can keep updating the firmware and the software… I’ll want a faster one with more memory at some point, but if it wasn’t for that, I’d just keep it.

Thank’s for that. I agree with what you’re saying about emotional attachment to digital products might happen once technology evolves at a slower rate. I do think however that it’s possible to have an attachment to a digital product that perhap’s has a longer shelf life than a mobile device for example laptop’s and computers etc.

What do you think?

Maybe, I love my mac book pro, but my wife has the newer one… and I want that!

I did have an attachment to my original iMac, it took me a long time to get rid of it, and i finally found a non profit to donate it to. I kept the controversial round mouse as my everyday mouse until it totally died.

I definitely have an attachment to physical products, digital things too, like my photos or other media I make like videos or instructables.

I would say people love their gadgets, and like their media.

I would agree, people do like their gadgets. I posted the same questions over on the product design forums. The response i got over there seemed to suggest that there was no attachment to physical product but the experience we have from it. The other response was that social media for example give us an experience and the physical product is their to give us access to social media, which seems to me that people see digital products as a richer experience than analog products.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that, we make connections with all our objects based on much more complex emotional descisions. Price (Cheap and throw away or expensive) Material, whether is was a present given to or bought by the individual, part of a brand we aspire to own, licenced by a celebrity we aspire to be like/emulate etc. I have an emotional attachment to some physical products, not because of their design or use, but because they were passed to me by someone I cared about who is nolonger here. They have a patina, they are worn in places by the old user, they remind me of them.

I have very little attachment/no attachment to digital/electronic objects (laptops etc) they are simply tools - I agree that I would be lost without them, but (money aside) they are easily replaced, they just allow me to get to the desired result. They are not tools that I love, not like my favourite carving knife, they’re just tools. I think due to evolution, we still (thank goodness) have much more of a relationship with products that are made from natural materials. Peter Dormer wrote extensively about this and our mistrust/misunderstanding of electronic objects - commenting on how we still hit the TV/ other electronic devices when they don’t work, even though they don’t contain any moving/mechanical parts and how, surprisingly in light of this fact, banging the TV sometimes fixes the problem - its an old condition that we may loose in years to come.

The problem with digital media is that it doesn’t physically exist so the products that support it are merely windows, vessels that allow you to access it. So then People have to form attachments to the box that holds the media, because they can’t hold something that doesn’t physically exist. Thats where marketing comes in. Own and show off with this product and you’ll be as cool as the person in this advertisment. In the 80’s it was Yuppies on the first mobile phones, then blackberries etc. It’s not neccessarily the attachment to the product that you feel, but your perceived attachement to the opinion that you think others will have of you by owning and showing off such object - a feel good factor. Also the emotional attachment is often formed, because of the price. You don’t want to throw it away, a year down the line, becasue it cost $400. With mobile phones on contract, this is removed. How easy it is to throw them away in favour of a new one with better bells and whistles.

I recently saw a teapot designed by Sori Yanagi. At 94 he’s still designing and his work is beautiful. Its so warm, so welcoming, not a trick or gadget in sight, looking at it you can feel the years of experience in it. It will still be here looking as good as it does now and as useful in 100 years time. Tecnological products are so transitory, the bonds you make with them can only be temporary, before they are superceeded and because we subconsciously know this, I think it limits the emotional attachment we make with them.

Personally, I have a greater emotional attachment to analog products than digital ones.

I actually did my initial research for my major school project on this area, about 10 years ago. I’m traveling at the moment, but when I’m back in a week, I’ll see if I can dig up some of the research and links to help.

In short, there certainly can be an emotional attachment to products in the physical realm. This can happen a few different ways (sorrry, but can’t recall the technical descriptions or all the ways). Just a few for example-

  1. An art object. Someone can certainly develop an emotional attachment to something like a painting, sculpture, etc. Product design can use this to an advantage and create an object that has similar emotional appeal.

  2. An object can afford an emotional attachment through it’s function. A teddy bear for example for a child, or a safety blanket is designed to elicit or surplant an emotional need.

  3. An object can have an emotional attachment by acting as a code or stand in for something. For example, a watch given to you by your grandfather, or a wedding ring. In these cases the object is representative of a real-world emotional connection, but the object takes on it’s importance.

  4. An object can also take on an important emotional attachment by being representative of the user itself an be a prt of conveying their own personality or emotion. Cars can be such an example, or even a special piece of clothing that identifies the user.

just a start… more to come when I get a chance.


Thank you very much. I’m currently studying for a masters degree in scotland just now, and find this stuff very interesting. Thank’s to everyone else for responding as well

When it comes to laptops I have always confessed to feeling a definite attachment to my very first Mac (which is still stuck in a cupboard by my desk), and even though I was able to replace it with a new one when it finally gave up the ghost, I still was incredibly sad to see it consigned to the cupboard. It took a long time for me to build up that new ‘relationship’ with my new laptop but, as I use it everyday, I think that you begin to feel like it is ‘yours’ and the sense of ownership builds up leading to that attachment again.

However, interestingly when my new laptop went awol and I was forced to wipe and reload the whole thing, I lost some of that attachment. I guess that this suggests that I actually had, in part at least, formed an attachment to the digital design, or more accurately, the digital design that a couple of years of use had allowed me to mould into the system that I wanted and that only I could understand (desktop background, filing system, software etc.). Perhaps this is the advantage of attachment in digital design - a physical product can very rarely be modified, but the flexibility of digital design means that the user can create for themselves something that is truly unique, and in the process form an attachment to it.

So how do you account for the resurgence in analog products? The amount of analog record players on the market has exploded in the last few years.

I think that’s in that trendy “anti-trend” crowd and the old-school audiophiles category. It’s been recently announced that the Technics brand tables which have been the undisputed leader in pro level turntables for over 30+ years will not be produced anymore due to the huge drop in demand. The DJ category is probably the biggest market for them and it’s now all moved over to digital, especially since large hard drives are so cheap so you can play native wav formats and not have to convert to mp3.
I think the surge in the other category is from the current crowd that’s into all things retro, but I’d have to assume that’s a much smaller group than the main users in this category.

Hello. Thanks to everyone for their input into my questions. At the moment I’m about to start my masters design project and research towards it. As I’m interested in design and emotional attachment, experience, interaction and product design i would like to keep this topic going for as long as possible from which i can use this forum topic as research towards my dissertation. I think some sort of analysis on this forum would be an interesting dissertation topic as well as what is discussed with regards to my project.

With regards to ethics in research i feel it is important that anyone who participates in my research here that they are aware that this will be used for writing around May/June time. Will the forum users be OK with me using referring to this in writing and will the admin be OK with me conducting ethnographic research and analyzing core77 as an online space?

In research you need to be careful that you pose you questions in a non-biased/leading way. By the way you’ve worded your questions, you reveal that you assume we all have emotional attachments to physical products, and any attachment to digital media is the exception or abnormal. You could ask it this way instead:

“Consider the ways in which you have emotional-attachments to physical products versus digital media. Is one stronger than the other? Do you see this relationship changing over time, and if so, in what way?”

Your second question is ambiguous–what’s an analog product? You mean like record players vs. CD players?

Also, generally it’s bad form to ask people to make assumptions about other groups of people. Instead, gather the research and make the conclusions yourself. Best of luck!

PS: Yes, I would greatly mourn the loss of my electronic design portfolio, digital music library (monetary value, and time-investment in building), and my digital photos (sentimental value) perhaps more than any physical object I own–I protect them all with offline and online backup solutions.

I’m going to re word the question(s) as i am aware they are slightly biased. I was more wanting some information back from core77 users that they would be ok with me using this forum topic for research purposes and me writing about it. Thank you for input as well.

As long as you’ve done it in a way that encourages open participation from the C77 community, absolutely!

Product Tank nailed a few really good points with this statement. Any emotional attachment to an object, virtual or physical, can arise out of the benefits within a social context or through what experiences the object enables it’s owner/user. Products like computers, phones, the kindle, etc. don’t create these attachments because of the hardware, but because of the experiences that the products enable the user. I’ll throw out the iPhone on this one as an example, all the fools that waited in lines to “get one first”, that social benefit is fleeting, as is the emotional bond by being the cool first iPhone guy. The OS and how you interface with it on top of the apps are the user enabling experience that creates that emotional bond. Case in point is the “I’m Rich” app which was just a stupid icon on the phone that did absolutely nothing, that is a virtual product that you cannot hold in your hand physically, but I believe that these products can hold an emotional value.

Digital media is one thing, they are files and images that can be translated to the physical world via printers, etc. They are digital representations of the real world. Virtual products on the other hand require a virtual setting, world, or context shared with others to have emotional value. These kinds of products are generated within, or for, these settings. A computer and interface or iPhone are just an interface, window, or portal into these virtual settings, they are the enabling tools, but they do not generate the entire experience, it is their ability to connect people together to share an experience that creates attachment.

Look at the success of Second Life or any of those annoying social networking games made by Zynga. Millions play the Zynga games, but only around 5% actually spend money on items, upgrades, and in-game objects however that 5% has made Zynga very profitable. You can also look to other massive multiplayer games like World of Warcraft These games are subscriber based and do offer a few services that the developers charge for, but all in-world items are generated by the developers with very few mechanics in place to enable the players to buy or create in-game personalized objects. So, you have players actually paying real currency for in-game currency, usually ill-gotten by Asian “gold farms”. Anyway, the point is that people involved in social media games or MMO’s see real value in virtual property and are willing to spend real currency to obtain it because it enables them a deeper experience within the context of that social virtual world.

Awesome topic.

Have you read “emotional design” by donald norman? Its an interesting book in which he divides design into three sections, each helping in forming our overall perception and emotional attatchment to a product.

The three levels are viscreal, behavioural and reflective. Visceral is the first opinion, based on how it looks, feels. it is connected to the senses and is almost instinctive. A cool looking product would appeal first to the visceral level. Behavioural refers to the product in use. does it work well? is the experience of using the poduct an positive one? The Reflective level is based on what the product means to the user, or says about the user, how it makes the user feel. A product with a high end brand might appeal to the user on the reflective level. A homemade object or something which has been customized will also fall into this level.

It is this reflective level i think that would concern your question the most. I have quite an old laptop that ive had for a couple of years. It has never let me down and i have changed settings and completely changed the themes so that it no longer resembles XP in any way. I have software, music, videos, college work and notes, photos and other things which i would hate to lose. I will probably have to get a new laptop in the next few months but if i could i would rather just upgrade my current one. It is the customization that causes it to appeal to the reflective level, it feels like it is unique, i could get a new laptop and for the first few days i will be happy with how fast and shiny it is but it will take much longer to get it to the same stage as my current laptop.


Thanks for your response. I’ve not read Donald Norman yet but will be getting onto it soon (of to pick it up today). Agree with what Product Tank is saying regarding physical products acting as a vessel for digital media.

Do you think there is any “real” value in virtual property? To what extent does it give a deeper experience? I think partly that people see virtual property as investment, much like real property, Bloomberg - Are you a robot? or perhaps people think they can make a business of providing experience. Perhaps more so than what Zynga games provide. My only experience of Zynga games is getting those annoying invites to play Farmville and poker on Facebook.

Does this differ so much from the iPhone and other social media ‘vessels’. Is their more experience in virtual products in a virtual world or with the physical products that let us access social and digital media?

definitely pick up “emotional design”

“watches tell more than time” would be another good book to read. Get em today!