The Significance of Things: Affective User-Artefact relations
Doctoral thesis, 2010
Products help people act, but also thrill, excite, and elicit fear, joy and anger. Artefacts are a natural part of people’s everyday lives, sometimes associated with values, dreams and aspirations. While traditional user-centred approaches have focused on efficiency and effectiveness of use, injury prevention etc. new approaches focusing on product experience have emerged. However, while increased attention is being paid to the experiential side of goods and services there remains a need for knowledge and methodology with which to address experiences with things, especially with regard to elicitation, specification and evaluation of requirements. This project has therefore taken an exploratory qualitative approach, aiming to elucidate what it is that people find significant in experiences with products.
159 participants in six different studies have shared descriptions of experiences with things. The studies have come from different perspectives, triangulating data collected in individual and group interviews with self-reports. The analysis indicates that things often matter not in terms of their mere presence or physical properties, but by standing out from expectations, requiring attention or referring to some idea. Often the significance of products lay in the role(s) they play in events, and the perceived impact the thing has on the person’s ability to realise motives.
While only a fraction of all experiences with things could be prescribed in product development it is possible to scaffold conditions that increase or decrease their likelihood. Three perspectives that could potentially be addressable in development work are: significant things and associated meanings, significance in use and significance of consequences beyond use. These imply somewhat different objectives for design and different needs for knowledge. User experience is not a property or quality of an artefact, but a perspective that can to some extent be addressed by enabling developers to identify requirements and align their understanding with what users find significant.