In the first post in this series, I described some of the ways the objects around us can elicit emotions from us and the role that product design plays in someone’s connection to the products they buy and own. As a product designer, your aim should always be to provoke positive feelings about the products your customers purchase to ensure they are highly satisfied with their purchase. Satisfied customers are likely to evangelise your product to others and to continue purchasing your products due to the impact they’ve had on their lives.
Wearable devices are highly personal products due to their attachment to your body and the fact that they’re providing a function to your day-to-day life that may often relate to your personal wellbeing (e.g. tracking heart rate or the number of steps you’ve taken). The likelihood of sustained adoption of these devices is highly dependent on the user’s experience of pleasure and joy while using these devices. In many ways, their success in being accepted is less reliant on technological innovation and more on great design and understanding their user’s psychology to provide a satisfying and enjoyable experience.
In this post, I’ll highlight a number of important considerations for the pleasure-driven design of wearables that stem from psychology and design sciences
The Four Forms of Pleasure in Wearable Design
A prominent focus of the study of psychology is happiness. Researchers in psychology have shown that happiness can be gained by pleasure and positive moods in everyday activities1; thus. we may define pleasure as a feeling of happiness, enjoyment and satisfaction by fulfilling primitive animalistic or instinctual needs. In the context of wearable device adoption, pleasure can be defined as the happiness resulting from a joyful experience of adoption.
Great design places an emphasis on pleasure and enjoyment and our path towards a pleasurable product passes through design science. Prof. Lionel Tiger, an anthropologist from Rutgers University, designed a four-layer framework2 called "Four Pleasures" and its extension in design science has been presented by Donald Norman3 who is well-known for his books on design science and expertise in usability engineering and cognitive science. Here, I’ll present its application in the design of wearable devices. Humans perceived pleasure in using a wearable device can be seen in the following four forms:
In the following sections, I’ll go into detail on each of these forms and considerations they present for the wearable design.
Physio-pleasure is the pleasure of the body that can be sensed at a visceral level. This is the perceptible level of wearables design that users may see, hear and touch. Designers are mostly spending their time on this level of design and elements such as comfort, durability, wearability, etc. This important aspect of wearable design distinguishes a product from its competitors within the market in how it’s branded and marketed, and from the user’s perspective, addresses their concerns for unique appearance and fashionable outfit. Designing leather and colorful bands for smart watches are examples of this form of pleasure in users. I have discussed in my previous post how leather or plastic materials can elicit different feelings in users. As a result, users’ feelings towards their wearables can be that they are youthful, unique etc.
Psycho-pleasure is about users’ reactions and their psychological state of mind at the behavioural level. The behavioural level (or “usability”) concerns how quickly a user can achieve a goal using a device. For instance, how fast and easy they are able to check their email using a smartwatch or the number of errors that may occur trying to check navigation on a map using smart glasses. Users’ enjoyment at this level should not be dependent on their skills and experiences. Simplistic design considers this an important factor to make a device understandable and memorable for everyone. Many of the user’s feelings are formed at this level. Participants in a research experiment about the behaviour intentions using wearables performed by Amanda Lazar’s4 found their wearables "not doing what they want" or hard to get what they want. A well-designed product at this level results in less stress for the user caused by lack of knowledge of knowing how things work, and consequently, provides a more emotionally enjoyable and satisfactory experience. Research has also shown that users felt positive when they could achieve their goals using a device with minimum effort and difficulty. Likewise, they feel negative emotions for a device for which they have unsatisfactory, limited and inefficient experience; e.g. making a voice call on an Apple Watch is designed to be easy with the least effort required.
Socio-pleasure can be seen in the form of rational behaviors at a reflective level of design. It consists of a person’s conscious thoughts interacting with others and requires the highest level of emotional design. This level is more concerned with the effectiveness of wearable devices in fulfilling their users’ social and self-identification needs. Jaewon and Soncheol’s research5 users’ intentions to adopt wearable devices showed users’ perceptions of wearables can be grouped into two categories: technological innovation (as discussed in Psycho-pleasure—usefulness and ease of use) and enjoyment for the purpose of self-expression. Self-perception Theory6 describes such attributes of self to be dependent upon a person’s self-image and the desire to look similar/different within a group. Such behaviors appear in the form of seeking uniqueness amongst a social group to establish one’s identity. When designing at this level, we should consider the social perception and concerns of the user when in a social setting.
Social interaction is the next part of design at this level, which may include activities within social networks, conversations or even a particular customised appearance that can indicate membership of a group. For instance, red or rainbow bands or necklaces can carry meanings in different cultures and such cultural symbols can be used in this context. Another example of group activity is game and activity challenges that can be seen on fitness trackers these days, which give users a sense of socio-pleasure.
Ideo-pleasure relies on aesthetics and embodied values in a device. This pleasure can be sensed when we are looking at a fine piece of art, reading a book, or even looking at a beautifully designed car. It may root in psychology, a user’s experience or sometimes environmental elements. In the context of wearable design, ideo-pleasure can be seen in the form of the pleasure in a moment when you are holding your smart-band in your hand to wear it. Do you identify it as being a beautifully designed device?
This post outlined the four forms of pleasure that wearable users may experience while they are using these devices. With the context of the design and psychological aspects of wearable design explained, the next post in this series will focus on the design of personalised services on wearable devices.
- Haybron, D.M., 2001. Happiness and Pleasure 1. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 62(3), pp.501-528.
- Tiger, L., 2000. The pursuit of pleasure. New Brunswick.
- Norman, D.A., 2004. Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Basic Civitas Books.
- Lazar, A., Koehler, C., Tanenbaum, J. and Nguyen, D.H., 2015, September. Why we use and abandon smart devices. In Proceedings of the 2015 ACM international joint conference on pervasive and ubiquitous computing (pp. 635-646).
- Choi, J. and Kim, S., 2016. Is the smartwatch an IT product or a fashion product? A study on factors affecting the intention to use smartwatches. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, pp.777-786.
- Bem, D.J., 1972. Self-perception theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 6(1), pp.1-62.