Is Product Longevity Caused by Emotional Attachments to Products?

Product Longevity: Is it related to our emotional attachments to a product?







Emotional attachment or emotional design have became phrases potent within the world of design. Emotions play a big role in the way humans react to and experience products and play an important role in influencing how we relate to objects. Creating positive emotions towards products could have positive effects on the design process. HIGHLIGHTED QUOTE IN BOOK The longevity of a product varies depending on the product. Some products have single use and some may last through many years and generations, but the longevity of a product is a crucial aspect that must be considered when designing the product whether the product is disposable or created to last a lifetime. These ideas are drawn from the theories of the authors Donald Norman and Jonathan Chapman who focus their theories on the user.


This dissertation aims to identify and analyse the link between the users emotional attachment and the durability of a product, taking into account the viewpoints of influential thinkers such a Donald Norman and Jonathan Chapman critically analysing products such as ‘The Sims’, ‘The Philippe Starck Juicer’ and ‘The Cup and Saucer’. It looks at how it’s possible to create positive or negative attachments with a product through the way it’s designed from different perspectives such as function, colour, aesthetics, form and emotion and is split into three sections: the first section justifies the need for increased product longevity followed by section two which shows how and why emotional attachments are developed; from the increased attachment through to the loss of attachment. Some approached to these issues are eco-design, emotional design which are tools that designers use to increase the life-cycle of a product. We live in a world that rapidly changes in taste and trends and our role as designers is to create objects and experiences that create lasting relationships between consumers. Even from the point of view of sustainability as designers, it’s important to create products so that users are psychologically aware of which will help build product attachment for the consumers. This essay questions why emotions plays a big part in how long consumers choose to use a product by including the ideas of the designers mentioned above.


In the world today, there is constant environmental problems rising around sustainability which has become a hot topic amongst designers and consumers. With the environmental awareness rise nowadays, the impacts that products have on the environment cannot be ignored. The longevity of a product, or its lifespan is the main aspect of the sustainability strategy but it’s easy for designers to think that designing a product with a long physical lifespan would directly affect the sustainable credentials of the product but it goes beyond that. It could be argued that although products have designed to last longer from a material point of view, it may be pointless if the user isn’t prepared to keep it for the duration of its life.

‘We are a generation born to consume. We have rowing machines we never exercise on dining tables we don’t eat at and ovens we don’t cook in’ (Deyan Sudjic, The Language of Things, 2009). This book brings across the idea that we’re a generation that have determined our own needs and cultures of purchasing things for the sake of it without actually having a need for it. In other words, the 21st Century generation are a generation hungry for new products on the market, continuing the culture of mass consumption. “If we’re really honest with ourselves most of that we design ends up in a landfill” (Tim Brown, IDEO, 2005). Tim Brown, like Deyan Sudjik refers to consumerism and the extent of the throw-away culture.

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The eco design of a product has a big impact on the environment as in products with short lifespans such as phones are produced in their millions and generally speaking, they are disposed of after an average of two years. Not because the phone becomes unusable but because a newer one will come out and the older phone seems ‘outdated’. This cycle can cause a worse impact on the environment than products produced in lower numbers with longer lifespans and disposed of less often. The attachment developed with a phone is solely to the service that it provides and the wide range of things that can be done with it, so when the chance for an upgrade is offered, the user will jump at the opportunity. This being the case, it means that designing products produced in lower numbers which lasts longer on an emotional level is a more valuable way to reduce the amount of waste. Or even better, being able to design a product that might never be disposed of by the throw away generation.

So, an increased attachment between product and user has a positive effect on the longevity of a product  and would benefit it’s sustainability, this aspect could be reconsidered by designers today.


This section is looking at how attachment is created and explores feelings experienced before purchasing a product through to the feelings felt after the discarding of it. People develop different attachments with different products through time depending on their taste. It could be argued that many products which last through years are ones that are given as gifts, have significant family importance or are souvenirs from holidays and generally have a memory or a nostalgia attached to it. For example, associations with family are influential in longer lasting products such a handed down watch by a grandfather would be valuable as it could be a reminder of the man, or a grandmothers antique box or furniture piece. These often elicit a memory that people are attached to.


Jonathan Chapman’s theory of the “Honeymoon Period” is very useful in discussing the types of attachment between people and products. In this section, the first stages of product-emotion is explored through to perhaps some of the last emotions before discarding a product. The “Honeymoon Period” theory by Chapman (2005) as “the passionate early stages of a subject-object relationship” can be used as a way of describing the first stages of a products lifespan as short and intense, climaxing in an “awakening jolt” unlike a successful marriage. In his writing, he compares the development in product longevity to social trends away from a long term relationship and more towards one-night stands. Designers have to provide something new and exciting for the consumers of today’s society so they remain excited about that product for as long as possible as when the attachment to the product begins to fade, it may be discarded or replaced. In comparison, Hendrik N. J. Schifferstein * and Elly P. H. Zwartkruis-Pelgrim (2008) have a different view which is that the strongest attachment to a product is formed after 20 years. Through their findings, it’s evident that the attachment is strongest in products younger than a year and older than 20 years because early on, enjoyment may be the major essence of attachment whereas, for old products memories may be stronger.

Fig.1 The graph shows the decrease of attachment after a year but showing the strongest developed attachment after 20 years.

(Hendrik N. J. Schifferstein * and Elly P. H. Zwartkruis-Pelgrim. 2008, p7)

“The means for enjoyment are highest for recently acquired objects, while the means for memories are highest for the older objects.” (Hendrik N. J. Schifferstein * and Elly P. H. Zwartkruis-Pelgrim. 2008, p8)

Both theories considered, emotional attachments may decrease after the first year, Chapman (2005) shows that users expectations have a detrimental affect on the longevity of a product. Overtime, feelings of sentimentality develops and the user becomes more attached to the product however, if that feeling or bond fades away and they realise the product has lost its functionality and usefulness, the products is discarded or replaced as disappointment and a shift in desire creeps in. GIVE EXAMPLE


Designers have the difficult task of creating products consumers can become dependant on. The word ‘dependency’ is more associated with drugs and alcohol rather than product design – it’s the psychological or physical addiction for something. Many of us are dependent on products without even realising. E.g. cars and mobile phones. The idea of dependency is approached differently by Chapman (2005) and Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim. Chapman (2005) describes the sharing of dependency or co-dependency between both parties involved – user and product; they share a “reliance and need” which creates strong emotional attachment. He uses the example of a reliant dog and its owner. The idea of co-dependency is suggested in a different way in Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim (2008). Co-dependency is divided into 3 parts: irreplaceability, indispensability and self-extension. These categories look at emotions felt within co-dependency. The first category is the emotional dependency and how the products in this category have a “symbolic meaning to their owners” which cannot be found elsewhere. The second is physical dependency and relates quite closely to Chapman’s take on co-dependency, although the Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim (2008) see this as being less important when considering emotional attachment. Lastly the third category is the way in which people are perceived. The examples gives are carpenter’s tools to a carpenter and a mountain biker’s bike to a mountain biker, they suggest that these products complete ones identity.

The game “The Sims” (Figure. 2) is a clear example of product dependency. Released in 2000, “The Sims” was one of the first life-simulation computer games developed which allowed the player to engage with their virtual character. The characters die when they are neglected or mistreated so it encourages the user to keep coming back to the game in order to keep the characters alive and reaching their life goals such as growing up, relationships and jobs.

Fig. 2 – shows The Sims characters doing some of the tasks that they need to do to stay alive in the game.

The game was designed smartly as it allows the user to create a deeper and stronger bond with the product. It’s a perfect example of the vulnerability of a user for dependency being targeted in order to create a long-lasting relationship with the product.



Donald Norman (2004) who is a behavioural scientist has identified these three levels of design that affect how we connect with a product. He believes that these levels apply to products and help identify their users. The Visceral Design refers to that instant feeling a product brings. It’s a reference to the concept of ‘gut instinct’ which is very immediate and often out of our control. Products in this category are often aesthetically crafted products for example, the Philippe Starck’s Juicer (fig. 3) which is a product high on the visceral level.

Fig. 3 – Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif, 1990 for Alessi

This product fails on a behavioural level as this category is to do with how the product feels and it’s ease of use and not the aesthetics of the product. It’s relating to the “function, understandability, usability and physical feel” (Norman 2004 p.71). Reflective design is the users overall impression of a product and what that product does for them whether it’s a personal thing or a reflection on themselves and what they like. It’s the long-term impact of the design which sets in after the product has been exercised and it over-powers the other two levels. A strong product addresses all three levels. Norman gives the example of the Motorola Headset (fig.4 ) which was designed for the NFL coach to wear during football matches as a product that establishes this; describing it as “cool” – the visceral level, “functional” – the behavioural level and “effective” – the reflective level as it reflects on the users self image.

Fig. 4 – The Motorola Headset, 2001.

Having looked closely at the development of emotional attachments to a product it’s evident that this is complex matter and to be able to continue attachments for a long number of years, a range of different techniques may be used in the product design. Discovering the way these attachments are formed has enabled designers to design with this in mind as it gives a greater understanding of the user-product attachment.


All theories above can be useful when it comes to creating a product with a long timescale. After viewing these theories, it’s evident how bonds are formed and how sometimes these bonds can be of a shorter lifespan that others therefore, further approaches could be took to prolong the product lifecycle. Although the ageing process is often viewed negatively, it could be argued that some products get better with age which could have a positive affect on the lifecycle. “Improving with age: Designing enduring interactive products”, William Odom and James Pierce (2009) brings across impressive findings within this area. Their theory divides products into two areas: digital artefacts such as phones, gadgets, game consoles and computers and non-digital such as furniture or accessories. Argued by Odom and Pierce, consumers have a stronger bond with non-digital products as they don’t see them as something that can improve with age. In comparison, Peter-Paul Verbeek, a philosopher of technology voices that consumers become attached in two different ways: “to the thing itself” and “to what the thing provides” such as functionality of the apps on an iPhone. Digital artefacts are not as trusted by the user which is why there is a less feeling of attachment there and if the user was given the opportunity to upgrade to something new, they would jump at it.

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I love my guitar. I can hug you and you’re not going to break and die. I can’t get too attached to electronics because they will break and die.” (Odom and Pierce, 2009) This is an example of the expression lack of trust towards digital devices when compared to beloved non-digital products. Their study shows that, long-term and strong attachments are mostly expressed to non-digital products, many which were owned previously by others and described as “vintage” or “sentimental”. An example of a product which gets consumers hooked to the service it provides is the Apple iPhone (fig. 5).

Fig. 5 – Apple iPhone X, 2018

Honestly speaking, the user is attached to the iPhone itself but the functionality of it. It evolves with the users needs and once the newer model comes out, the user often believes that their current one is no longer fulfilling their needs and so they decide that they need to upgrade.

Knowing that digital products often have no sentimental value and are replaced at the first chance given, we can now look at how certain non-digital products emerge. An example of this king of product is the Click Cup by Emma Lacey (fig. 6).

Fig. 6 – The Click Cup, Emma Lacey, 2007

This set is an interesting piece and certainly a conversation starter. If the cup is empty, it sits rather tilted and awkward as the bottom is round however, it becomes positioned correctly and sits upright when it’s filled up creating a surprise within the user experience. It arguable that this piece creates a level of user-object co-dependency. When it’s sitting at an angle it can make the user feel unsettled which can prompt them to fill it up. Lacey suggests that the user can “have the opportunity to play with the weight and position of the cup and become acquainted with it over time.” (Emma Lacey, 2009, p6) This creates a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment for the user which is one of the techniques mentioned in Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim (2008). “A way to involve enjoyment is by incorporating surprise into products, since such products are found to be much more enjoyable.” Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim (2008, p8). The theory believes that enjoyment is the primary method in which strong bonds are created at the beginning or a user-object relationship.


There can be no clear way in which a successful emotionally durable design can be created but as evident in this essay, there are multiple theories in which a users emotional attachment to a product could affect the longevity. In this dissertation, we looked at the difference between the longevity of a product and the longevity of the emotional attachment brought on by the consumer. We saw that in order to create products with a longer longevity the level of emotional attachment in the designing of it needs to be greater. At early stages of a products life, we noticed that the intense feelings at the beginning of the relationship often had a dramatic ending as the techniques identified weren’t used in those products. Using these techniques in the design process can enhance the emotional attachment for example, forcing the user to create memories and experiences with the product (Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim (2008). Obviously, memories cannot be formed with new products so initial enjoyment needs to be created which in relation to Norman’s (2005) three levels of design, emotions create interaction on visceral or behavioural level through to interaction on reflective level.

The contrast between digital and non-digital products were made in this dissertation, which showed that they are two completely different products emotionally. People often tend to develop long-lasting emotions towards non-digital products and less-lasting with digital products due to the service they may provide than the object. The research identified that consumers are drawn to digital products due to the information it provides which develops with the user. For example, a users phone gains more information such as texts and photos the longer it’s owned and when the phone is wiped to its factory settings, so is the emotional attachment between the user and object. Lastly, it can be argued that not many products completely accomplish all the aspects of emotionally durable design. Only some practice every theory in this essay and generally speaking, no matter how long a product is designed to last it’s the user who determines the life-span of it and how long they want to keep it for. So it can be concluded that the longevity of a product is in fact the length of the emotional attachment associated with it.


Brown, Tim. (2009) Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organisations and Inspires Innovations, Harper Collins

Chapman, Jonathan. (2005) Emotionally Durable Design, Routledge 1 Edition

Deyan, Sudjic. (2009) The Language of Things, Penguin, Page 6

(Norman 2004 p.71)