Living with Design Objects: A Qualitative Study of iPod Relationships

By Andrew Scott and Ian Woodward.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since it’s introduction in late 2001 Apple Inc’s iPod, and subsequently their iPhone, have grown to become social and technological phenomena. Widespread adoption of the iPod has changed music consumption, remaking the music business in the process. The iPhone has had a similar impact on mobile telecommunications, changing how people consume information.
Apple’s design-centric approach results in products that occupy premium market positions and in turn generate high profit margins. To consumers products such as Apple’s iPod represent significant investments of disposable income and personal attention. Users invest significant amounts of “psychic energy” in these products, using them constantly, lavishing them with attention, accessorising and protecting them from harm. This set of practices is part of the general movement from the world of designed commodities, to the singular and personalised object. Yet, herein lies a contradiction. For all the value users place in their iPods and iPhones they are eminently “iReplaceable”. With the release of the latest model these products can move rapidly from the status as a cherished object to that of one that is waiting to be replaced. This masterful cultivation of the fickleness of consumers and their willingness to invest such objects with strong meaning is clearly highly profitable for companies such as Apple, but raises urgent issues of waste and sustainability.

Drawing on a longitudinal qualitative study of iPod users, we explore this key contradiction and how users gain and lose emotional attachment to these products and how these practices are part of a product’s emotional lifecycle with the design economy.

Keywords: Industrial Design, Material Culture, Attachment, Emotional Design, Sustainability

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.499-508. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.064MB).

Andrew Scott

Lecturer, School of Design, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Andrew Scott is the subject area coordinator for the industrial design programme at the School of Design, Queensland University of Technology and teaches predominantly in the first year of the programme. He completed his masters (research) in touch screen interface design and his PhD research focuses on product attachment and personal identity. Other interests include product aesthetics, graphical literacy and information design.

Ian Woodward

Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Ian Woodward is Senior Lecturer in cultural sociology in the School of Humanities at Griffith University, Australia, and Deputy Director of Griffith’s Centre for Public Culture and Ideas. In addition to publishing many papers on the cultural aspects of cosmopolitanism, he has written extensively on consumption practices, subject-object relations and material culture. He is the author of ‘Understanding Material Culture’ (2007, Sage) and co-author of ‘The Sociology of Cosmopolitanism’ (2009, Palgrave).

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