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Empathy Design is Self-entertainment?


Marketers have been suffering from “Product self-importance” for a long time. Functional design is supposed to be user-driven. Although more and more user research and demand analysis methods are applied, it can cause a “thunderstorm” called “Self-entertainment”. How can we ensure that the seemingly filmsy “Product emotions” can be “shared” with consumers?

Today we are going to talk about “Product Design for Self-entertainment", not only on

function design, but also on emotional value transfer.

"Design for Self-entertainment" is always mentioned when it comes to the function design of a product.

In the perspective of customers, "Self-entertainment" feature design is a kind of “Thank you, but I will give it a swerve.", which could be called "over-designed". Following a search on "What is over-designed?", the answers are full of accusations from almost all age groups.

"There are 27 keys, but I have only used 3 of them.😅"

Functional design is oriented to user demand. But with the support of more and more user research and analysis methods, there could be such a "thunderstrom". Moreover, how can we ensure that the seemingly filmsy "Product emotions" can be "shared" with consumers?

Let's start with "Product Function Design", which are more familiar, to see if we can refer to "Product Emotional Value".

Before the first stroke of the design sketch, sufficient research basis and analysis are all needed to define the function, style and other elements of the product. Delft Design Guide distills and organizes the design methods involved in the design process.

Thinking deeper into the underlying logic of these design methods, we can summarize the following formula:

Avoiding ”Self-entertainment" in function design is actually a matter of closely matching human needs with what the market can offer. As a product creator, the designer is the bridge between the company and user.

Let's back to the "Emotional Value of the product".

The meaning of "Empathy Design", is enabling designers to appreciate and please themselves while providing sense of belonging for users and gainning the recognition from customers.

The keyppoints are:

How do designers successfully integrated ideas into products and resonate users?

What kind of design process will generate output that impresses users?

Let's think about the following three perspectives:

1. Based on the product's own characteristics such as CMF (Color, Material and Finish)

The characteristics of product itself come from the concept that the designer initially wants to attach to it. During he product definition stage, the designer thinks about the ideas and stories that the product is intended to convey, and then distills the most crucial threads and narrative forms of the story, applying unique colour schemes, materials and processes to express such forms, thus integrating the concept into the product.

For example, the collection of lamps called Coffire was designed by product studio KAE.

Studio KAE is a design practice studio based on material and process research.

The studio asserts that designs originate from the needs and reflections of the individual, and indeed of society, acting as a mirror. But at the same time, unlike works of art, they often penetrate into the lives of their users, creating a collaborative and symbiotic relationship with them.

In Coffire collection, the designer uses coffee grounds as a pigment to colour the ceramic surface, creating an uique texture on the piece. By using an innovative colouring technique and a traditional pit firing technique, the Coffire lamps are given a pink marble-like surface texture that cannot be achived with other glazes. Moreover, the various kinds of textures and colours produced through this firing technique leads to each unique lamp.

Why did they choose coffee grounds as dyeing material?

"At least 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide each year, producing at least eight million tons of coffee grounds,"
"Most coffee grounds are discarded, thrown in landfill or incinerated along with other waste. The disposal of coffee grounds as waste not only consumes a lot of energy, but also harms the environment."

The "coffee grounds" are a key element for the design. The product hopes to make users re-examine the waste of coffee grounds and environmental hazards in their daily lives, so it was designed to use coffee grounds as a product feature and incorporate the product's CMF design to integrate its DNA.

2. Based on the interaction between products and users

Sometimes, the product's own characteristics will give users a glimpse, but it could not provoke a deeper reflection. Therefore, a more direct and profound way of transferring the concept is to make it an interaction between products and users.

(Photo by Klau Rothkegel)

Design studio BCXSY worked with Budapest-based digital artists Gabor Papp and Gáspár Hajdu of Xorxor and Ágoston Nagy of Binaura on the installation. They have created an installation called Reciprocal Syntax, which allows two riders to together build an audiovisual landscape through play. In this way, they want to explore the meaning of "Collaboration" with their user.

How do they express the meaning of "collaboration" in this product?

“The installation features a sensor-rigged seesaw surrounded by semi-transparent fabric, where visuals are projected as they're created in real-time.”

What these visuals end up looking like depends on the approach taken by the audience — for instance, how forcefully they push off the ground or whether they find moments of equilibrium.

They are not given specific instructions but left to explore, discover and strategise for themselves.

“The experience is meant to represent the nature of the creative process in a collaborative design team.”

BCXSY's co-founders, Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto, said that in their creative process, they tended to develop their own "intuitive, playful and abstract language" and that the melding of minds made it impossible to trace where the contribution of one person ended and the other began.

"Through a constant stream of exchange and reflections, bits and pieces start falling into place and distinctive patterns and narratives are conceived,"

The landscape starts off plain and grows richer as two audience members interact on the seesaw, which contains an accelerometer — the same sensor smartphone use to know when to switch the display from portrait to landscape mode or to track a user's steps.

The riders finding equilibrium is a key trigger. When they are in balance, Reciprocal Syntax introduces new elements, such as clouds, colour gradients and shooting stars.

Their actions then control those elements. For instance, when one of them hits the ground, they "create" new clouds — clouds whose path across the sky reflect the force and speed of the riders.

I would say, it provides an opportunity for users to think.

3. Based on product presentation, packaging and marketing

In addition to the product itself, the external output of the product is a more direct representation to users. It includes the product and packaging design that "captures the users' heart in seven seconds", as well as the promotion strategy and the corresponding service approach in the market.

For instance, the promotion of the Coffire luminaire mentioned above.

(Interview by Klau Rothkegel)

"The Coffire will be in collaboration with cafes. The raw coffee grounds required for product dyeing will be collected and supplied by the partner cafes, and the products will be marketed through the cafes as their peripheral products in the form of brand partnerships. "
"Based on this sales model, it will maximise customer awareness of the sustainability of coffee and the original design of the product, adding more value to the upcycling of coffee."

The designer is the link between artwork and practicality. The real meaning of design is to be able to be recognised by more people while appreciating and pleasing designers oneself. It is important to give the product an outlet and the ability to tell a 'story' that can be expressed smoothly while still putting your thoughts into the product.

It may not be possible to guarantee that every product will successfully 'empathetic' to each user, but at the very least, it will be something that 'everyone will understand, everyone will experience, and someone will become absorbed in'.

We are looking forward to the moment when the product is really designed to be on the "heart" of the user.

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