Steven Kyffin (Master of Design, Industrial Design, Royal College of Art London) is Senior Global Director of Design Research and Innovation at Philips Design in the Netherlands. In this function he is responsible for the program of Design Research in Philips Electronics world-wide. Heâ€™s is a member of the Philips Design Global Management Team and works out of the CEOâ€™s office within the Global HQ in Eindhoven.
This interview took place in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, on November 25th, 2005 at 13:00 PM.
Near the end of the year I drove to Eindhoven through a blistering snowstorm. It was the day that The Netherlands experienced the longest traffic jam in history (90 kilometers! In total almost 850 kilometers of traffic jams). I made it to arrive on time and Steven directed me by phone to where he was having lunch.
I met Steven in the cafeteria of the Technical University of Eindhoven, where he usually can be found on Fridays. His colleague Gavin Proctor, also a Design Research director at Philips Design, joined us. While enjoying a warm cup of coffee (Douwe Egberts. Yes, the one that Philips teamed up with to build the successful Senseo!), we talked about design and started to get emotionalâ€¦
Steven, You once said: “Design was once the province of craftspeople making things. Then it became design for mass-manufacture, and it is now design for mass-customization. In the future it will be design of the immaterial.” Could you say we are entering or have just entered the future, while we have started researching emotions and designing for emotions?
Well, I think we are entering it now. The dimension of the immaterial is now added to the complexity of the other three. The designerâ€™s craft is still there though. In fact, it has re-entered again, because mass-customization enables you to design nostalgia. Designing in and around the ‘space’ that so many are calling Emotion is merely moving from the implicit to the explicit, … largely thanks to the complexity offered by the digital age of mass seepage of content in addition to the overwhelming need for most brands to attempt to seduce us at any level they can get there antennas on…
Where does emotion come in, in that customization?
Well, yes, as I said before …. In designing as part of having to respond to the intangibles. Make them both more explicit and tangiable. Today I worked with someone who was intent on trying to pull the physical issues of something that had always been physical: the opening of a hand bag, of all things, and try to push it to be more engaginging and tangiable. He was trying to find a way of interacting, opening and closing it, to you and me, which was not governed by the histories of the technologies which came before, such as Zippers and buckles. he was searchng for new technologies which respond and cellabrate the ways in which people really want to open and close bags!!! So, behavior or interaction driven rather than Technology driven. At an emotional level, celebrating their security and privacy, now that’s an example of their emotion driving the design idea, rather than letting technology drive it.
(Gavin Proctor) Yes, the intangible qualities, sensorial aspects. Consider the designer as an artist with a pallet. Think of it as we are now exploring a larger field of colours, of paints, to express design. Immaterial qualities like sound, light, movement, all of those can be layered in the intangible qualities of the product. Finding how they tell our story. Our story, not that of the maker or the designer alone.
Is this something Philips is structurally researching and developing?
Yes, this is one of our key-goals, to make sense of this. Remember that designers have always been doing these things, but as I said. they have done it implicitly. Designers were known for designing the thing, object or product, but in fact they were also designing the product as a host or as an initiator or inspiration to an experience. It would now be considered somewhat dumb, but when they were designing a tea-cup, they were in fact designing the experience of drinking tea, very culturally intelligent, if not technologically so…. Nowadays our systems have gotten more complex though, mediating content or data instead of, but as well as just coffee or tea. There are so many levels that have to be designed. The chance of screwing it up and causing someone a complete headache is very high. So, you have to design for and in the human experience.
We all know what itâ€™s like to drink a cup of tea. So as long as you donâ€™t make the tea cup impossible to pick up, you are not really going to ruin the experience too much. In the old days you didnâ€™t have to explicitly unravel ‘the meaning of tea’ completely. So, to design for it, was taken, or given. Nowadays you end up designing for the whole experience over much longer periods of time… the full love affair, rather then just the initial cup of tea (laughs). Also, building in the emotional values, the emotional layers into something like a chair, was before done implicitly. But now, causing someone huge frustration when buying something on Amazon or Ebay, or even not wanting to get into the Ebay system, is so high and so risky. You have to really understand what sort of emotional effect your designed idea is going to have on people. like designing the whole financial system (the bank etc) and not just the cheque book.
Emotions have recently caught the attention of researchers in many different fields. Brand-related emotions are researched in the marketing field, while product-related emotions are researched in the field of product design. Nevertheless, these fields have never really communicated with each other to integrate both into one clear model of what you might call â€œconsumer emotion“. Do you have an idea why this never happened?
I think it is very difficult to do, and to quantify the added value. Designing a whole world, when youre a ‘victim’ of one, and can’t really. The one we’re all part of very well, is proving very difficult. Even Frued didn’t get to the bottom of it, and kept changing his mind as to its core and base ‘rules’ sometimes he appeared to accept that there were some and at others he refuted the idea. No wonder we struggle, our ideas of a ‘thing’ an its relation to those around it are not so clear, let alone understanding all the different layers which they all relate within. Physical, psycological, digital, emotional, intellectual, behavioural, Stefano Marzano likens to design as an act of love: try unraveling that one! Eros, affection, friendship, charity, hmmmmm….
(Gavin Proctor) I think it is just the evolving nature or evolving understanding of ‘brand’. A lot of products are being commoditised and brands are looking for new ways of adding value, creating value. They have come down to the experience of the brand as being part of their central focus of their marketing style. For many companies thatâ€™s been intrinsic. Think of Coca Cola. When you think of Coca Cola, you donâ€™t necessarily think of the drink, but you think of the whole kind of American lifestyle.
Isnâ€™t Apple another good example of this?
(Gavin Proctor) Yes, exactly. When you think of the word Apple-user. You can not help but think of a certain type of person. That philosophy is now carried through the entire brand. You instantly notice that upon entering the Apple Store. They are not pushing the product at you, but rather welcoming you to the experience of Apple.
Now we use Apple as a good example, but there are many companies that havenâ€™t understood how the experience of the brand has to be laid at intrinsically to the product. You see that brands make promises around a particular experience of the product, but they need to see that they also need to be delivered.
Steven, in Interactions (sept/oct 2004) you proposed a marriage between two approaches in interaction design: 1) tangible interaction (focusing on perceptual motor skills) and 2) affective interaction (focusing on the emotional skills), calling it a tangible approach to affective interaction. In my master thesis research in 2003, I implemented a similar study using a verbal measurement approach. This demonstrated to be rather difficult to measure emotions and exclude external influences at the same time. Especially when interaction is such an intangible phenomena. Have you been able to succeed in measuring emotions of interactions?
No not yet, but again this is one of our current design Research objectives.
To avoid negative emotions you proposed: freedom of fun, freedom of interaction. Could you explain shortly what it refers to?
This project was made by one of our colleagues of the University of Eindhoven (The Netherlands), Stephan Wensveen. Part of the article I contributed to, was about why manufacturing companies do not ‘exploit’ or better work with these aspects in products and systems. What Stephanâ€™s position was, was that you should enable people to have the freedom to enjoy the things they use. And therefore there was not just one prescriptive or one way of operating a ‘thing’. Without this we will reach high levels of frustration if we don’t perform the task exactly as the designer prescribes, which is almost impossible to achieve, hence the mass irritation with many computer applications and their interface menus etc…
What Stephan Wensveen did in his research projects was to test an alarm clock (see the picture below) which could be set in many different ways. He gave the ability to the object to ‘read’ the way you set it, and then respond through the alarm. In response to the emotional way (interaction), so to speak. If you had put it in a real hurry, it could tell you were a bit stressed and then wake you up with that in mind. If you set it very lazy, it would realise you were quite relaxed, you didnâ€™t really need to get up. Whether these things actually correlate and are actually true is another matter. It was just a matter of exploring these possibilities for what they were: possibilities for greater expression and communication.
And my point of view in the article was, that even though these things are very important, in the commercial world rather than the artist world, they are just trying to make money out of alarm clocks, to put it simply!! And these complexities mentioned before, are irrelevant (at the moment) to making money. In fact they cost so much and very few people are willing to pay for the level of quality of that experience. You cannot make an alarm clock for a 100$, when you could do it for 5$. Only when this type of company is really aiming at that group of people that is willing to pay a 100$ for a lemon squeezer, and it still doesnâ€™t work properly.
Do you refer to the lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck?
Yes. Itâ€™s sensorial value, the semiotic value, to present it in your home and inspire you to feel good about yourself, is far more important than the squeezing of the lemon. It works on another level. There are these four criteria for the success of a product from Alessi. There is a functional one, then the price criteria, and then there are two others: how does it make you feel and how does it help you relate to other people, by what it says about you in their context. People are willing to pay an enormous amount of money if it enables us to have a better and richer relationship.
What is, according to you, the biggest difference between measuring or design emotions in normal products and interactive products?
The increase in complexity. We have moved from craft built static objects, as with ALESSI to use an easy example, to content driven software enabled systemic object systems, the most simple of which is a mobile phone or a blackberry… we have only just started on the road to causing mass PRODUCT RAGE, measuring it is awfully difficult in either state, but it is essential that we do, so we can learn how to minimise it.
Truly personalised products are getting more and more important through important changes in society. Which challenges does this bring for designers?
Loss of creative control over the total solution. See our articles in the NEW EVERDAY, on the OPEN OBJECTS and the QUESTION FOR DESIGN, on emergent objects in a continual state of becoming.
Are you currently working on any projects that are related to emotional design research?
Yes… Have you had a chance to see our conference proceedings on DESFORM University of Northumbria: we call it SE_MOTION. Reading the INFORMATION DRIVE CONNECTED INTELLIGENT SYSTEMIC LIVE PHYSICAL OBJECTS soon to be published by SPRINGER. There is so much more to explore and reveal, so much fun to be had, so many more people to become the creators they were intended to be!!!
Well, that was a great statement and actually perfect to conclude this conversation with! I would like to take this opportunity to thank you both very much for an interesting and very inspirational conversation.