design & emotion

Getting Emotional With… Lorraine Justice

Lorraine JusticeLorraine Justice Ph. D., is currently head of the Design School at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dr. Justice has served in higher education for the past seventeen years, teaching in the areas of industrial design and human computer interface design. She has published and presented her work worldwide on topics such as interface design. She assists educational institutions worldwide with curriculum development. Dr. Justice was responsible for organizing the First China-USA Industrial Design Conference in Beijing, and the First Doctoral Education in Design Conference in Ohio. Dr. Justice was recently made a Fellow of the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA). She has twice served on the Business Week/IDSA IDEA jury for best products and is a jurist for international paper competitions. (Source)

Currently, Lorraine is involved in the shared organization (between the Polytechnic University and the Design & Emotion Society) of the 6th International Conference on Design & Emotion in Hong Kong, October 6-9, 2008 . The International Conference on Design & Emotion is a forum where practitioners, researchers and industry meet and exchange knowledge and insights concerning the cross-disciplinary field of design and emotion. Lorraine will also give a key-note lecture at this exciting event.

Lorraine, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I really appreciate it!

Could you share a little bit about your background and how you became head of the Design School at Hong Kong Polytech University?

In 1989, I travelled through China as a young professor and came to love the people. I kept in touch with a few friends I’d made and always wanted to go back. So when a head hunter called when I was at Georgia Tech, I decided to “sell the American dream” literally, and move to Hong Kong…big house, two cars, swimming pool, stuff, gone!…it was cathartic to move. Also, I felt I’d accomplished what I could at Georgia Tech at the time, getting the Industrial Design Program nationally accredited and growing the Master’s program.

In an interview you did with NextD, you mentioned that you believe that “innovation can only come from marketing and engineering. It is the emotional side of product “lust” that makes people have to have an item, a desire or a need, but the designers can combine the aesthetics and usability concepts to achieve a fabulous product.” You clearly acknowledge the importance of ‘designing for emotion’ here. When did you gain this insight, and can you recall what triggered it?

Something happened that I thought I, as a designer, was immune to. I was seduced by a car! I am a very frugal person and very much into sustainability and ecological concerns and had been driving a small “stripped down” Toyota for many years but one day I happened to walk past a car dealership and saw a car of my dreams. Through its form, shape, color, etc. I fell in love with this car, crazy as it sounds. Then, I went in and sat in it and could not believe the ease of use, fit and luxury. All of my senses were stimulated, not to mention it was a convertible. It was one of my only “impulse buys”. I never regretted it. I kept that car for many years and sold it before leaving for China. Another woman who had admired this car for many years, would always stop me and ask to buy this car. So one day, in my driveway, I handed over the keys knowing it would go to a good home ☺.

According to you, what is a clear definition of ‘design for emotion’?

Design for emotion is when a product is created to fulfill an emotional need or desire. It can range from a much needed medical product to something as frivolous as some of the luxury products of today. Design for emotion recognizes the human side of us in a very concrete way. Our emotions arise from our feelings and our feelings arise from our beliefs and our beliefs arise from our culture. What could be more telling, yet abstract, about the things we own and feel emotionally charged with. The other side is that we have a lot of products we don’t like or feel very negligent or uninspired about, and to me that is the bigger problem.

In what way is this concept a part of the programme in your Design School?

We like to believe the student projects are inspired by human need rather than just a self expressive exercise. It is going beyond oneself to create for others feelings, emotions, needs and wants.

Next to being head of a Design School, you are also a designer yourself. Does ‘emotion’ play a significant role in your own designs as well?

Yes. I am a software interface designer by training and many of the products I have worked on would be deemed successful if they were very clear and easy to use, thus calming people down when they are trying to learn anything from online banking to navigating a complex website. Frustration and anger blocks comprehension, whether it is a hardware, software product or both, and the frustration and anger level needs to be lessened. This is more serious, of course, when you are dealing with safety or security issues with people, and so the interaction needs to be calming rather than overwhelming and complex.

In the beforementioned interview with NextD, you give three reasons why the American design field does not stimulate innovation and change. You talk about the lack of design thinking in business processes and companies, the lack of user-oriented designers in companies and the fear of change…. This does not sound like fertile ground for a ‘design for emotion’ revolution. Is the US not the place for this? What can we do to speed up things there?

I have been very critical of a lot of American design mainly due to the corporate view of design and the lack of support for design in American universities. There are some wonderful designers and some wonderful design firms, but they never get a chance to “fly”! By the time corporate America gets done with a design, you have in some cases “technology meets marketing” substituting for what the designers can actually do. It is such a tight fisted waste of what could be going on in the US in design.

You have taken up the challenge of setting up a new design school at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I can imagine the many differences you encounter, when you compare the US with Hong Kong and China. What would you say are the main differences in design (approach) between these cultures?

The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design is not new…in fact it has been around since the early 70s. It has doubled in size since I have come, as we added a fabulous digital media area and have grown the Master’s degrees and PhD studies as well. There is a difference between Hong Kong and China and the US. The US students grew up working on cars with their fathers, building things in the back yard or in the nearby woods, making messes, taking things apart and, in general, making their parents crazy with their inventiveness. The Hong Kong students and those in major cities in China are mostly apartment dwellers and do not have the room or the parents, in some cases, who will let them fail, make messes, or experiment the way US parents do. However, the Chinese students have a work ethic that is extraordinary and they are very smart and appreciate education. If you combine US and Chinese students, even though they would work differently, the outcome would be fabulous.

Looking at the cultural differences that exist between East and West, it is certain that there are differences in emotional experiences as well. According to you, what are these differences and how obvious are they?

I think, in some ways the Asian aesthetic is very quiet, refined and streamlined, compared to the West, not that you don’t encounter the occasional garish lion or interior in temples and palaces. Right now, the Mainland is experiencing a Renaissance and the freedom of expression, and the raw emotion from pent up years of restriction, is exhilarating to watch, especially in the art and fashion scene. The Hong Kong aesthetic is a bit more internationally refined, and as a result, the products are not as “in your face”, or Asian inspired as what is occurring in China. The Hong Kong products that are rooted in the Hong Kong Chinese culture are very noteworthy, however, and some are very, very funny. Hong Kong design can be very amusing.

Design in Asia has taken a flight and it seems there is a big push on it. Would you say that this is the perfect environment for change in design understanding and education? For example to shift focus more and more towards user- and experience-oriented design?

One of the reasons I came to Hong Kong was to have some of the good values of design take hold in China…that of human centered design, ecological and sustainable principles, and superb manufacturing.

In the Pearl River Delta, it is known that companies and industry focus mostly on direct Return On Investment (ROI). As ‘emotions’ and ‘experiences’ are so much more indirect, I can imagine the difficulties you encounter to educate user-oriented designers for a direct ROI-oriented environment. It seems you are a real missionary in that sense. How do you see developments in the PR Delta?

It has been very difficult to ask the manufacturers to consider making their own products. I am now thinking this may be impossible as you are trying to change a mindset that has experienced much success. I believe it is the designers and entrepreneurs who must approach the manufacturers with their design ideas and partner with them to get new products made. The manufacturers, however, have to educate themselves to learn about design in order to value these ideas. Paying for ideas seems to be very difficult for some manufacturers. They don’t always understand the effort and research that goes into concepts.

One of the tools to spread the ‘design for emotion’ word in Asia, is the Design & Emotion Conference that is organized by you (HK Polytech) and the Design & Emotion Society. How important is it to have such a conference in the area?

I was so impressed with Paul Hekkert, Pieter Desmet and Kees Dorst and the others who first proposed this conference. It was very brave. Even designers are afraid to discuss emotions, and so this is a very freeing event for everyone to finally acknowledge the emotional side, rather than just discussing consumer needs or new product development.

You will be giving a Key Note presentation at the conference. Can you give us a short impression of what you will be talking about?

I will be talking about the link between the cultures we come from, and the beliefs we form (and make up ourselves!) and how that impacts what we want in our life. Have you noticed that when the sleek thin Jaguar went from the UK to Ford Motor Company it became very muscular, tough and big? What does that say about the cultures through the design of just one product….a lot!

If you would run into someone on the street tomorrow and you would have to convince him or her of going to the Design & Emotion Conference later this year (6-9 October)… What would you say?

You will have a new inspiration for your design and won’t leave the same as you came!

Thanks Lorraine, we look forward to seeing you in Hong Kong then!

May 19th, 2008 » permalink » trackback »

  • 1 Frank Spillers on January 16, 2010:

    I really enjoyed Lorraine Justice’s presentation at the Design and Emotion conference. It was the best presentation of all the keynotes. What made it so special is that is was purely subjective. She discussed her family background and personal history with products. She talked about the profound influences of culture and values & value systems on product ownership and user experience. It’s difficult to find people talking about this, and it’s also rare to have such a rich subjective (deeply personal) sharing on stage. Thanks Lorraine.

  • 2 imsilentfish on March 23, 2010:

    very enlightened interview~



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