Design for Emotional Sustainability: creating long-lasting consumer-product relationships

In their move towards a more sustainable society, many designers, manufacturers, and producers have thus far focused on reduced use of natural resources, or on the reuse of materials. One other way to move towards a more sustainable future, however, is to motivate consumers to use their products for longer. Therefore, a group of designers asked the WUR Science Shop to examine how designers, manufacturers, and producers can motivate consumers to develop an emotional relationship with their products in an economically viable way, with the ultimate goal to increase the lifespan of products.

Throughout the project, we will focus on the concept of ‘emotional sustainability’ – generating sustainable solutions in the form of using products for longer (instead of wasting such products) by creating an emotional relationship between consumers and their products. We will thereby examine the factors that can motivate or withhold consumers from developing an emotional relationship with their products, and the factors that can motivate or withhold consumers from using their products for longer. We will also study design principles that may motivate emotional consumer-product relationships, and that may motivate consumers to continued use of their products.

The idea is that the scientific research, conducted for about one year in this Science Shop project, will form the start of a community of designers, researchers, consumers, and stakeholders that are interested in creating and maintaining long-term consumer-product bonds (emotional relationships) for their products, in such a way that products will be used for a longer period of time and, ultimately, will lead to less resource usage for production processes. The research project will provide first insights into how (young) designers can create and support such long-term consumer-product emotional relationships for their products. These insights will be used at the launch of the interactive community to further generate discussions and initiatives among designers, researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders, and to provide initial support for developing a novel approach to (emotional) sustainable design.

The Wageningen University & Research (WUR) Science Shop collaborates with non-profit groups in society by organizing research projects that find answers to their questions, free of charge. With the help of WUR researchers and students, we translate civil society’s challenges or concerns into research questions and start a collaborative project. We serve society by being an open door to the university and creating an opportunity for everyone to decide what should be researched at WUR.