Symbolically Meaningful Products

Research in positive psychology indicates that consumption of material goods is generally a counterproductive behaviour for happiness. Nonetheless, it is possible to observe how some products seem to defy this negative idea of consumption: Symbolically meaningful products have the ability to make our intentions tangible, to remind us of our aspirations and to keep our successes fresh – and they provide a clue on how design can contribute to happiness. Studying the symbolic value of products is generating a lot of interesting ideas and new insight about how design can positively influence people’s subjective well-being. Recently (June 2015) Mafalda Casais presented a paper entitled “Extending product life by introducing symbolic meaning: An exploration of design strategies to support subjective well-being” at the PLATE conference (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) in Nottingham, England, co-written with her supervisors Ruth Mugge (PIM department) and Pieter Desmet (ID department). In this paper, 16 design directions were presented that aim to introduce symbolic meaning in products, in order to make them more relevant for the happiness of users, and consequently have longer lives.