How Sensory Experience can Alter your Perception of a Product

In this blog post I am going to talk briefly about sensory properties of products, and how they can alter your perception of the quality of the product. We have all picked up a cheap and badly designed item and noticed how badly designed it was. This might be because something rattles, a part doesn’t quite fit in another part, or the finish is tacky or uneven for example. On the other hand, we have all picked up a product and thought, “Wow, this is really nice!” What springs to mind when I think of this, is the box that my iPad came in, and I’m sure that if any of you have ever owned an apple product, you will understand what I mean.

I will mention Apple a few times through this blog, as they are a leading example (along with many others I might add), that pay special attention to the sensory experience of their products. I have been sent down this train of thought by the project that we are currently doing at the Glasgow School of Art. We are designing and manufacturing a product to sell to the public in December, so I have started to try to understand what characteristics makes a high-quality product.

Over the summer break, I spent some time helping a friend with his start-up business. He set me on to an article by GQ about Apple Airpods, and why they have seen such a meteoric rise in popularity. For those that don’t know, they are wireless earplugs that can be stored in a charging case. I don’t own them myself, but they supposedly work seamlessly with your apple iPhone. The aspect of their design, as described in the article, that spoke to me was the mechanism that allows the lid of the charging case to connect to the case. It is a magnetic connection that gives the writer, an “idiot-glee dopamine hit,” as he relentlessly attaches and removes the lid in his pocket. I own one of the Apple Pencils that allow me to write and draw on my iPad, and I have experienced the exact same feeling with the lid of the pencil. The magnet that secures it is just strong enough to hold it firmly in place, whilst leaving it easy to remove when you need to. As you attach the lid, you feel through your hand the reassuring gentle tug of the magnet as it snaps into place. Along with this sensation, there is a satisfying audible click as it happens. Similarly to the writer in the GQ article, I find myself removing and attaching the lid of the pencil as a habit. It is clear that it is has been a design consideration of the company when developing these products to ensure that they are joyful to use, and that they radiate the perception of quality. For me personally, the sensation of holding the pen in my hand, watching, feeling and hearing the lid click into place exudes this perception. It is also this ‘quality’ that we pay a premium chunk out of our wallet for. 

Apple products have been at the top of the technology game for years now. Many put this down to the fact the that ‘they just work’, but I think it is more than that. I believe that people are absorbed by the sensory experience that they offer. The click of the keyboard, the apple logo lighting up on the back of a Macbook, the texture of the matte-finished aluminium casing, are all subliminally working at us, giving us the impression of quality and great design.

Another piece of great sensory design is that of the Ruuvi Tag Sensor enclosure, as seen here in the photo. Ruuvi Tags are environmental sensors that wirelessly send data such as humidity and pressure directly to your phone. The housing consists of two components; the main body and the lid. The main body has an elastic o-ring that provides a couple of functions. It ensures that the enclosure is water and dirt resistant, but it also creates a very smooth, controlled sensation when pushing the lid on to the main body. When I put this product in my flatmates hands and asked him to describe the experience of closing the lid, the first thing he said was “secure”. One of the selling points of the product is the fact that it is weatherproof and hard wearing, made so because of the way the lid fits onto the main body, so this is the exact emotion the designers were hoping to get across to the user.

Thanks for reading this post. I plan to have the next one up soon so keep watching this space!

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