Sunday, November 26, 2006

Designing Pleasurable Products by Patrick K. Jordan

This book came out in 2000 and I have wanted to read it ever since. This Thanksgiving I finally got it read. As so many times before, I am annoyed I did not read it before, but on the other hand, as always, it fits into my current thinking and maybe I was not ready until now.


What follows is more a summary than a review.

Jordan starts out describing usability as a dissatisfier. Something that consumers expect. Something that causes annoyance if it is lacking. In many ways it is similar to performance and security. Not something that sells a product, but something that has to be there in order for the product to be taken into consideration in the first place. Jordan goes on to argue that

"usability based approaches to design are – in effect, if not in intention – dehumanizing. This is because such approaches tend to encourage a view of people as simply cognitive and physical processors in a user-product-task system" p.205

Instead of a usability based approach Jordan proposes a more holistic way of looking at humans and that the goal for product development should be to create pleasurable products. Pleasurable products covers

"the emotional, hedonic and practical benefits associated with products" p.12

In short Jordan's arguments for going beyond the usability based human factor methodologies are the now often heard more new sales and more repeat sales. Basically the arguments that has led the trend in branding books for the past decade or so. If you can design a product that emotionally appeal to the consumers they will be more likely to buy it, and once bought they are more likely to develop a emotional relationship to the product and the brand and hence to buy more of that brand.

This book is to my knowledge one of the first books that actually help you design pleasurable products instead of just showing you products that succeeded.

The outline of the book is:

  1. Define a framework of four pleasures
  2. Use the framework to examine people characteristics i.e. how to look holistically at people
  3. Make a Products benefit specification for your product.
    1. Based on the holistic picture of a target group, understand what benefits/needs your product will fulfill.
  4. Introduce formal and experiential product properties.
    1. The formal property of Chrome is 'shiny/reflective'. The experiential property may be cool, modern, or tacky depending on who experiences it.
  5. Derive a property specification for your product.
  6. Evaluate the desirability of your design.

1. Define a framework of four pleasures

  • Physio-Pleasure:
    • This is to do with the body - pleasures derived from the senses. In the context of products physio-pleasure would cover, for example, tactile and olfactory properties as well as ergonomic issues.
      • Smell inside a new car
  • Socio-Pleasure:
    • This is the enjoyment derived from relationships with others. Products and services may help to enhance or facilitate particular social situations and may confer social or cultural status on the user.
      • Porsche for 'yuppies' and Dr Marten's boots for skinheads
  • Psycho-Pleasure:
    • This type of pleasure refers to people's cognitive and emotional reactions - including their reactions to the products and services that they use.
      • A word processor that helps you spell provides higher Psycho-pleasure than one which does not
  • Ideo-Pleasure:
    • This concerns people's values. It is important that the values embodied in products and services are consistent with the values of those for whom they have been designed.
      • Mercedes advertising that 90% of their C-class cars can be reused. Plays to people who value environmental responsibility

For the Ideo-pleasures Jordan draws upon Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions. These can be used not only on cultures but also of consumer/customer segments

  • Power distance
    • The degree to which the less powerful members of society expect there to be differences in the levels of power
  • Individualism vs. collectivism
    • The extent to which people are expected to stand up for themselves, or alternatively act predominantly as a member of the group or organization
  • Masculinity vs femininity – (Jordan uses Toughness vs. Tenderness)
    • Refers to the value placed on traditionally male or female values. Masculine cultures value competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and the accumulation of wealth and material possessions, whereas feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life.
  • Uncertainty avoidance
    • Reflects the extent to which a society attempts to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty
  • Long vs short term orientation
    • Describes a society's "time horizon," or the importance attached to the future versus the past and present.


To summarize, the usability approach deals almost exclusively with psycho-pleasure and for physical products that is only 1 of 4. For software, I think that I would lump the visual design in under Physio-pleasure and that would also give software four pleasures to play upon.

2. Use the framework to examine people characteristics

In this chapter lists examples of characteristics related to each of the four pleasure:


  • Special advantages: Skills learned of inherent, physical attributes like strength or dexterity. Military hardware can assume skilled people in good physical condition
  • Special disadvantages: Permanent or temporary. Blindness or pregnancy each bring about disadvantages in particular situations
  • Musculo-skeletal: The Xbox controller was initially to large for the average Japanese
  • External body: height, weight, body shape. Hair, eye and skin color. Men are on average taller and heavier than women. I am just about too tall for a Mazda Miata. Not for a Porshe.
  • Body Personalization: hairstyle, bodily and facial hair. Contact lenses vs. glasses.
  • Physical environment: Temperature, humidity, lightning.
  • Physical dependencies: dependency on cigarettes, drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol
  • Reaction to the physical environment: Reaction to heat or cold. Allergies.


  • Sociological: Country and culture. In the western world products designed for personal care for women emphasize femininity. Such designs may be considered inappropriate in, for example, the Muslim-governed countries of the Middle East.
  • Status: A person's standing in society.
  • Social Self-image: your idea about yourself. Many products have a role as 'Social accessories' à underlines how you would like others to see you
  • Social relations: Friends, family and loved ones.
  • Social labels: Gender, age, ethnic origin construed by others. Or through clothes etc. Punk, Skinhead, Goth.
  • Social personality traits: Generous, sense of community, sense of responsibility. Conformity vs. rebelliousness.
  • Social lifestyles: Glamorous or fun-seeking lifestyles. Family men/women.


  • Special talents and difficulties: Intelligence, skill, and creativity.
  • Psychological arousal (low or high): Feeling alert, stressed, tired, bored etc. Or may be driving a car or a glass watcher on his/her second shift. Trying to shut off a machine: in the US off = up. In UK off = Down.
  • Personality traits: Steady attitudes (as opposed to moods). Extrovert, introvert
  • Self-confidence: A particular pertinent example of this is in people's attitudes towards computers
  • Learned skills and knowledge: Formally instructed or learned over time. QWERTY is proven to be less efficient than Dvorak. Still QWERTY sells better.


  • Personal ideologies: Ideologies that a person uses, or tries to use, as a basis for personal lifestyle choices. Adherence to traditional family values would be an example.
  • Religious beliefs: beliefs or lack thereof.
  • Social ideology: Respect for authority, environmentalism, political correctness
  • Aspiration: success in career. Success in family life.

3. Make a Products benefit specification for your product

Mercedes C-class: Product should be sporty, show high social status, and be environmentally friendly.

Go through the four pleasures and understand what the characteristics of your target audience is. What benefit does your product provide. Jordan uses the design of a camera for Western women 25-35 of high socio-economic status:

4 of 12 benefits:

  • Camera should feel good in hand
  • Camera should be easy to carry around
  • Camera should be operable without causing damage to the user's fingernails
  • Camera should reflect the users' femininity

4. formal and experiential product properties

Formal property: A motorcycle may have a top speed of 120 mph.

Experiential property: If you are a competitive racer, you may think this is slow. If however you use it for commuting you may consider it fast.

Elements of product design:

  1. Color
  2. Form
  3. Product graphics
  4. Materials
  5. Sound
  6. Interaction Design

5. Derive a property specification for your product.

How does your target audience perceive various colors, materials etc.

If for instance we want a camera that feels good in the customer's hand, then it must be nicely balanced, not too heavy yet heavy enough that it still feels solid and of high quality. The size must also fit the Western women 25-35 hand size.

You go from "not too heavy" to a formal weight range.

"Camera should reflect the users' femininity" may be translated to elegance and elegance may be translated to the material for instance stainless steel in a matt texturing. Femininity may also translated to a more organic / round shape unless it conflicts with the goal of elegance/ status

6. Evaluate the desirability of your design

Page 136-204 of the book is dedicated to a summary of various methods for evaluating designs. A lot of them are well known user reseach and marketing methods like Private camera conversation, Co-discovery, Focus groups, experience diaries, and participatory design.

I browsed most of this part of the book but stopped and read about Kansei Engineering (p.178) and SEQUAM (p.182). Both are methods for relating formal properties to experiential properties. Quite interesting and a bit hard to explain. Basically you take a wide range of different designs of the same product, the example is a coffee can, and describe its formal properties. Then you have a group of potential customers score it on experiential properties. Milky, soft, sweet, masculine, adult, strong are the examples. Then you correlate the data, build a database and then, when you want to design a masculine coffee can you look it up, and find that a large logo is correlated with masculine. Interesting. I would like to learn more about this.

And now for the review part

I really like this book. It is fairly short and easily read. It is written as a textbook and it shows. In a good way. It is useful, not just inspiring. I am annoyed I did not read it before, but reading it now, I can see how it fits right into the design principle discussion. It gives a good set of tools to talk about and design Aspen to be more than just a framework. But be a framework that by default builds pleasurable products that do more than just lower the TCO of Windows Server. Products that make it a pleasurable experience to own and administer windows servers. Products that make it really compelling to stay on windows servers in the future and to use Microsoft products to administer them.