Designing for Pleasures: Application of Pleasure-Based Approaches in Product Design

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Process of product design
  • Step 1
    Step 2
    Step 3
    Step 4
    Step 5
    Step 6
    Step 7
  • The four pleasures
  • People characteristics
  • Product benefits specification
  • Product design properties
  • Design evaluation


The role of human factors in product creation has become more and more important in recent years. It is suggested that designers go beyond the traditional usability-based approaches and use pleasure-based approaches to look at people in a holistic fashion. The objective is to design products that will not only be usable but also bring pleasures to their intended users. To meet this challenge, designers must not only look at the users' cognitive and physical abilities but also consider all the pleasures that a product may possibly give to those who use it. Since pleasures with products are derived from the interaction between a person and a product, it is then essential for designers to understand the role that the products play in people’s everyday and working lives.

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Process of product design

In this workshop, we will use a four-pleasure framework outlined by Patrick Jordan to introduce the concept of pleasure with products, as well as to classify people characteristics for the purpose of “understanding people holistically, linking product benefits to product properties, and assessing product pleasurability” (Jordan 2000, p9). Based on the pleasure-based approach, the following steps complete a continuous process in creating pleasurable products:

Step 1

Learn about the four pleasures.

Step 2

Gain a holistic understanding of your target users by looking at people characteristics and how they affect the product benefits your users may want.

Step 3

Specify product benefits required to make the product pleasurable for your users.

Step 4

Determine the experiential properties necessary to deliver the product benefits specified in step 3.

Step 5

Specify the formal properties associated with the experiential properties determined in step 4.

Step 6

Manipulate the product elements to establish the formal properties.

Step 7

Evaluate designs for pleasurability.

The four pleasures

It is only human nature to pursue pleasures. People actively seek enjoyment by participating in different kind of activities and/or creating artifacts that improve the quality of life. In the context of products, pleasure can be defined as ‘Pleasure with products: The emotional, hedonic, and practical benefits associated with products’ (Jordan 2000).

  • Practical benefits are directly observable outcomes of using a product. For example, a dishwasher delivers the practical benefits of clean dishes.
  • Emotional benefits are the positive user experiences a product delivers. For example, using a product might be emotionally fulfilling, exciting, or confidence enhancing.
  • Hedonic benefits are the pleasures that appeal to the senses. For example, a cell phone might be aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to hold in hand. The four pleasures outlined by Jordan are:
  • Physio-pleasure is concerned “with the body and with pleasures derived from the sensory organs,” including “pleasures connected with touch, taste and smell as well as feelings or sensual pleasure” (Jordan 2000, p13).
  • Socio-pleasure is “the enjoyment derived from relationship with others,” including “relationships with friends and loved ones, with colleagues and peers, or with society as a whole” (Jordan 2000, p13).
  • Psycho-pleasure pertains to “people’s cognitive and emotional reactions,” including “issues relating to the cognitive demands of using the product and the emotional reactions engendered through experiencing the product” (Jordan 2000, p14).
  • Ideo-pleasure is concerned with people’s values, including “tastes, moral values, and personal aspirations” (Jordan 2000, p14). Pleasures can also be further classified as need pleasures and pleasures of appreciation:
  • Need pleasures are pleasures that fulfill a person's needs and as a result make him/her feel content. For example, eating plain bread would give a need pleasure to someone who was hungry.
  • Pleasures of appreciation are those that develop because a person views something as pleasurable, whether he/she needs it or not. For example, people might enjoy having caviar because it brings them a sense of high economic status.

People characteristics

A pleasure-based approach to human factors begins with gaining a holistic understanding of the people who will use the product. This includes getting to know how people characteristics might affect the product requirements. The following are the different clusters of people characteristics based on the four-pleasure framework.

  • Physio-characteristics are those concerned with the body, including “the senses, the musculo-skeletal system, and the size and appearance of the body” (Jordan 2000, p63). The following is a list of physio-characteristics and their definitions provided by Jordan (Jordan 2000, p63-67)

Product benefits specification

Having learned about the four pleasures and the different categories of people characteristics, the next step in the design process is to specify a list of benefits that a product should provide to bring pleasures to its target users. In generating the product benefits specification, user scenarios can be constructed to describe the kinds of activities or tasks that the users might perform and to explore possible context, needs, and requirements. The list of people characteristics summarized in the above section can serve as a checklist as you consider the characteristics of the target users. Then, the four-pleasure framework can again be followed to analyze what benefits the users might wish to gain from the product.

Product design properties

Once the product benefits specification has been created, the next stage is to determine the experiential properties necessary to deliver the product benefits specified. Then, the formal properties associated with these experiential properties should also be identified.

  • Experiential properties are subjectively perceived properties of the product which may vary depending on the person experiencing the product and the context in which the product exists.
  • Formal properties are clearly defined or objectively measurable properties of the product whose elements can be manipulated to cause specific effects. The product elements that can be manipulated to establish the formal properties include, but not limited to, color, form, product graphics, materials, sound, and interaction design. For example, a countertop may have a height of 37 inches. This is a formal property of the countertop, because it can be measured objectively.

Experientially, this height might be seen as either ‘high’ or ‘low’ depending on the person experiencing the countertop and the context in which the countertop exists. If the countertop is to be built in kitchen and the person standing in front of the countertop is 6 feet tall, then this person might regard the countertop as being ‘low. ’ On the other hand, if the countertop is to be built in a bar and the person standing in front of it is 5 feet tall, then this person might regard the countertop as being ‘high. ’ When determining product properties, designers must take into consideration how the target users view certain things and what attitudes or expectations they might have. It is also very important to keep in mind in which context the product will be used, because the same thing will have various meanings to different people, and in different circumstances.

Design evaluation

The design solutions must be evaluated to determine if the product will deliver the benefits as intended before it is fully developed. The first step of conducting a design evaluation is to translate the product benefits specification into a set of evaluation criteria/goals. Then, an appropriate type of prototype must be selected to best represent the design ideas to be evaluated. Jordan described six types of prototypes that can be used in evaluation to elicit users’ or human-factors experts’ opinions:

  • Product benefits specification is the list of product benefits required to make the product pleasurable. How: The list of benefits will be presented to the target users and/or human-factors experts and then questions will be asked to assess the suitability of such benefits.
  • Product property specification is the list of product properties necessary to deliver the intended product benefits. How: A list of suggested experiential properties and formal properties will be given to the participants and then questions will be asked to see if they felt 1) “a product which exhibited the experiential properties listed would deliver the benefits listed,” and 2) “the formal properties would give the desired experiential property” (Jordan 2000, p125).
  • Visual prototypes are visual representations of a product, such as paper-based sketches, drawings, or on-screen representations (Jordan 2000, p126). How: Prototypes can be shown to the participants and then questions related to the product’s form, functionality, and perceived ease of use can be asked. Users will not be able to interact with a visual prototype. When: Visual prototypes will be most effective when a product’s aesthetic and functional qualities determine if it will be received by the users. They are less effective “when a person’s experience of a product has a significant tactile element” (Jordan 2000, p126).
  • Models are physical representation of a product. They can be used to evaluate both the visual qualities and the tactile elements of the product (Jordan 2000, p128). How: Participants will be given the models to interact with. When: “Models can be particularly useful for assessing whether the proposed product would fit into its environment of use, as well as for checking whether its physical dimensions are suitable for the product’s purpose” (Jordan 2000, p128).
  • Screen-based interactive prototypes are screen-based representations of products. They offer simulated interactions (Jordan 2000, p128). How: The participants will interact with the prototype. When: “This type of prototype is particularly useful when there are firm ideas for the form of the product and potential interaction styles, but sufficient uncertainty exists to make it worth checking the interface style before going on to build a full working version of the product itself” (Jordan 2000, p128).
  • Fully working prototypes are the prototypes that are almost like the final product. How: The participants will use and experience the product fully. When: “This type of prototyping tends to be most effective with software-based products” (Jordan 2000, p130).

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