John Zimmerman of Carnegie Mellon's School of Design Speaks on Product Attachment Theory Photo

John Zimmerman of Carnegie Mellon's School of Design Speaks on Product Attachment Theory

February 17, 2009, 4:00 - 5:30 p.m.


For the last several years the interaction design community has been undergoing a broadening of scope from usability to user experience; attempting to make new things that improve the quality of people's lives across a range of different contexts. One perspective that seems potentially rich in the pursuit of experience, but that has received little attention, is the theory on product attachment that describes how people come to love their things . People invest psychic energy into their possessions, developing attachment through repeated use as they engage in a process of identity construction. What the theory does not offer is any guidance on the process of making things that have the intention of becoming life companions, things people will come to love.

To investigate the value a product attachment perspective, I have taken a research through design approach, making many different things. Through a process of making and reflecting, I developed a philosophical stance, which calls for interaction designers to focus on products that help people move closer to their idealized sense of self in a specific role, to create products that help people become the person they desire to be. In this talk I will discuss how a research through design approach worked to connect product attachment theory to the design process; share a few example artifacts that have been designed as a result of this stance; and detail how other designers might apply this perspective in their practice.


John Zimmerman is an interaction designer and design researcher with a joint appointment as an Associate Professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University . John has three main research areas: (i) design of interactive products through the application of product attachment theory; (ii) mixed-initiative interfaces that combine human and machine intelligence; and (iii) research-through-design as a research practice. John teaches courses in interaction design, HCI methods, and the design of smart home applications. Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, John was a senior researcher in the adaptive systems and interface group at Philips Research.