Emotions and Inanimate Objects: ‘Kansei Engineering’ Explains How We Respond to Products
Have you ever looked a product and thought, “That coffee pot looks happy because it seems to be smiling at me” or, “Man that car sure looks mean”? I know I have on more than one occasion, but I just thought it was my imagination getting the best of me.
It turns out, though, that there’s an actual term for these inexplicable emotions: Kansei Engineering.
What it is:
What this crazy term means is that customers have emotional responses to the design of a product or service that are linked to its properties and characteristics. Basically, we give an emotional response to a product’s design based on what we see from it. Knowing what customers’ responses will be means that products can be designed to be the best fit possible between what’s expected and what’s received in terms of design.
“I love you, globe! You’re so masculine, dignified, and alluring!”
This isn’t exactly a new idea from this millennium, but instead from the 1970s when Professor Mitsuo Nagamachi at Hiroshima University in Japan proposed this theory. Several companies now use this information to design their newest product offerings for customers. For example, they’ll use maps of individual features of a product, service or brand and compare it to customers’ subjective responses. This information is then used to create a new design which deliberately uses these chosen set of positive instinctive responses.
How it works:
Someone from the company in question will ask a focus group which words come to mind when they see the new product. Responses aren’t meant to be paragraphs long, just one word. Some examples include products that appear:
Alluring, angry, clean, dignified, feminine, friendly, gentle, harsh, masculine, modern, nostalgic, smart, sporty, youthful, outdated
Companies now use this type of engineering to better entice customers in the marketplace. Mazda’s cars are developed so that the driver feels good about everything from the design functionality to driving dynamics. I know this sounds “new agey,” but when you really think about it, they’re making everything as simple and fluid as possible design-wise. There’s nothing worse than driving and wanting to change the radio station, but the dial is in the most inconvenient location.
The idea behind Kansei Engineering is to make it as simple as possible for customers to use something that’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
How it’s used today:
When Sony was looking to redesign their camcorder a few years ago, they thoroughly looked into this type of engineering. Who wants to use a camcorder that gives us the impression of being old or outdated? We want a camcorder that’s modern and clean looking because that’s what we want we want to preserve our memories. We don’t want to trust something that looks cheap or fragile.
What emotions come to mind with this Dyson?
Think about an Apple iPod compared to the now-obsolete Microsoft Zune. Or how about a Dyson vacuum cleaner versus one from Hoover? Which one would you buy based on design and usability? Chances are, you’ll pick the the Apple and Dyson products because of the sleek design (rather than having a clunky or awkward design).
While Kansei Engineering does seem like a weird theory to know, it does help companies produce better looking and easier-to-use products. Think if Apple products weren’t clean looking or if Crosley’s radios didn’t ooze nostalgia.
They just wouldn’t seem right, would they?
Have you ever noticed this principle before in your life? Are there specific emotions you would attach to your favorite products? What would they be? Sound off below!
Image credit to Williac and Clipart.com.