The half-life of a sustainable emotion

Searching for meaning in product usage

Authored by: Gerald C. Cupchik

Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Product Design

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138910171
eBook ISBN: 9781315693309
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines two complementary questions. First, why do users hold on to products that are deteriorating and well beyond their prime? Second, why do users change products frequently when it is not necessary to do so, based on the state of their technology? The roots of product attachment can be found in the very structure of design products in which, like artworks, the concrete form (i.e. style) metaphorically shapes our experience of their function (i.e. subject matter). Optimal engagement with a design product balances the top-down appraisal of its function and bottom-up sensorily rich experience of its usage in context. Feelings of pleasure or excitement accompany the appraisal process whereas, emotions such as happiness, transform design products into ‘transitional objects’ of attachment that are rich in personal meaning. Overly rapid updating of products reflects the impact of surface changes on ‘other-directed’ consumers. The ‘half-life’ concept implies that we never really emotionally let go of utilitarian objects to which we are attached. Achieving a mindful and sustainable attitude means that we are able to decentre and shift between a top-down appraisal of devices in relation to our needs and a bottom-up appreciation of the roots of our emotional attachments to things in our life-worlds.

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