More funology: positions

XI.5 September + October 2004
Page: 40
Digital Citation

Interview with Patrick Jordan

Mark Blythe, Patrick Jordan

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MB: For readers who aren't familiar with your work could you give an example of the four pleasures you talk about in Designing Pleasurable Products?

PJ: OK, here's a brief summary.

Physical pleasure is to do with the body and the senses. It includes things like feeling good physically and health wise, as well as sensual pleasures. Sensual pleasures include things like eating drinking, being comfortable, tactile things, etc. Anything associated with the five senses.

Social pleasure is to do with relationships. This includes relationships with family, friends, coworkers, loved ones and others that we know, but also more abstract relationships with society as a whole, such as how others see us, our status and those kinds of things.

Psychological pleasure is about what's going on in our minds emotionally and cognitively. Feeling good emotionally and doing things that interest and engage us would be examples of psychological pleasure. So would being creative or enjoying the creativity of others.

Ideological Pleasures. These are to do with our tastes and values. Our tastes are about things that we happen to like. Maybe we prefer red to blue for example—just matters of preference with no major philosophy about them. Our values are about our moral judgments. Maybe we believe it is right to care for the environment for example, or perhaps we hold religious or political beliefs. We feel better about ourselves when we act in line with our beliefs.

MB: There is a school of thought in the field of aesthetics that argues our responses are culturally- and context-specific, not timeless or universal. Would you agree?

PJ: I think that it is likely that both nature and culture play a role in how we respond to things. For example there are certain shapes and colors that people from a wide variety of cultures seem to respond the same way to and these might tap into our human instincts. Lots of people are scared of images of snakes and spiders for example, but very few of us are frightened by pictures of cars or guns. However in today's society we are much more likely to be killed by a car or a gun than a snake or a spider. That might be an example of a natural aesthetic response—the aesthetics of snakes and spiders generate a stress reaction where the aesthetics of cars and guns don't.

On the other hand, some aesthetic reactions seem very culturally specific. Swastikas are offensive because they are associated with the Nazis for example. As a half-Brit/half-American I probably have an emotional response to the Union Flag and the Stars and Stripes which is different to how I would respond to other combinations of color and shape on a cloth background!

MB: Could you say something about how a design can be gendered as explicitly feminine or masculine, this may be quite an alien concept for some readers.

PJ: There are two broad issues here. One relates to ergonomics and the other to aesthetics. On the ergonomics side of things men and women differ, on average, on a number of physical and physiological measures. These would include things like height, reach, and strength. This might mean that if we were making something that was going to be used mainly by men it might be sensible if it were made to a different set of dimensions than if it were being used primarily by women and vice-versa.

There is also evidence from market research and sales data that suggests that men and women have, on average, different tastes in aesthetics. Again, whether these differences are natural or cultural or both would probably be a matter of debate among psychologists and other social scientists.

MB: Have your thoughts about designing pleasurable products changed at all?

PJ: At the moment I am interested in a field called "evolutionary design." The idea is that we can learn things about design from nature—like the thing I mentioned about the spiders and the gun earlier. I have always tended to focus more on the cultural elements of why we like things—I think this may be true of most people in our profession—so it is interesting to see this new branch of research emerging.

I still think that the basic principle of understanding people in depth is the key to designing things that are really wonderful and which people will really love. There are lots of different professions which have great ways of understanding people and we can learn new things from all of them.

MB: What are your favorite methods at the moment?

PJ: Recently I have been using a technique called the "method," which actors use to get inside the lives of the characters they are playing.

I originally started using this technique when I was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. We were working on regional and national campaigns tackling anti-social behaviors such as racism and gun-violence. Because of the people we were trying to influence it wasn't practical or even safe to interview them.

I saw a show on TV about the actor Billy-Bob Thornton and how he had got into the mind of a really nasty character that he had to play and he talked about the "method" so I asked the drama department if they could help us. Ingrid Sonnichsen, a movie and theatre actor, taught me the basics of it. It worked really well and I am using it in a lot of my commercial work now.

MB: Why do you think the subject of design for pleasure has such a wide appeal?

PJ: I think that a lot of the general appeal is because it's about understanding people. Usually we can recognize ourselves or others that we know when we talk about motivation, lifestyle and why we like the things we do. I think that makes it fun to read about and apply. It's also very simple which helps, I think.

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