Emotionally Durable Design: Sustaining relationships between users and domestic electronic products

Jonathan Chapman

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The UK disposes of 1.25 million tonnes of domestic electronic products (DEPs) each year, the majority of which still perform their tasks perfectly, in a utilitarian sense. In an emotive sense, however, these unwanted products bear a metaphysical mode of defect manifest within the relational space occupied by both subject and object. In this way, it is clear that the design for durability paradigm has important implications beyond its conventional interpretation, in which product longevity is considered solely in terms of an object’s physical endurance – whether cherished or discarded. This thesis explores the emotional dimension of design for durability to provide a more progressive, profound set of sustainable design propositions; arguing that consumer desires continually evolve and adapt whilst the DEPs deployed to both mediate and satisfy those desires remain relatively frozen in time; this incapacity for mutual evolution renders most DEPs incapable of 
both establishing and sustaining a relationships 
with users. The waste this inconsistency generates is considerable, and 
comes at an increasing cost to manufacturers facing the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic 
Equipment (WEEE) Directive, but more importantly, the natural world. This thesis is located within 3 converging fields of knowledge: sustainable product design, emotional and user-centred design, and consumer motivation. Although the literature reviewed in this thesis presents selected discourses that articulate the need for longer lasting domestic electronic products, practical working methods, design frameworks and tools that enable the commercial implementation of such artefacts, have yet to be realised. This study argues that the apparently intangible, ethereal nature of considerations pertaining to psychological function cause confusion for the practicing designer tasked with the design and development of greater emotional longevity in DEPs. As a result, the positive impact(s) of academic studies in this area has thus far failed to penetrate the working practices and methodologies of design – arguably, the one place where new models of sustainable design knowledge and understanding are most urgently needed. The aim of this thesis is to generate new and practical design information that enables product designers to engage more effectively with complex issues of emotional durability through design; presenting a more expansive, holistic approach to design for durability, and more broadly, the lived-experience of sustainability. The three core contributions made by this thesis are thus; (1) the evidenced identification of a 6-point experiential framework to structure inquiry and exploration into salient issues emotional durability through design; (2) the design and production of 6 experimental DEPs, which exemplify ways of working with the 6-point experiential framework; (3) the development of an original, and transferable, methodological process for developing case-specific design knowledge to address emotionally durable design.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


  • Emotionally durable design
  • ewaste
  • electronic waste
  • WEEE Directive
  • attachment
  • meaning
  • value
  • motivation
  • consumption


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