Insights for Designers:
Why People Leave Products
So what does this teach us about
detachment? We found three key
reasons why relationships with
products collapse, and each has to
do with personal change: changes
in self-identity, creative process, and
creative ability. Each of these changes is inevitable, and typically positive, in creative professionals. A new
goal for designers is to create technologies that both anticipate and
respond to these personal changes.
Changing self-identity. People
leave products when their identity
changes because they see technol-
ogy as an extension of themselves.
A design student said that back
when he was “analytical,” using
grid paper worked great, but as his
creative identity strengthened, the
grid paper began to hold him back.
Now, he said, “I want to be intuitive.
I want to be creative.”
When people are forming their
professional identities, relationships
with creative tools are most at risk.
Designers should consider the ways
in which their products are intro-
duced during times of career trans-
Changing creative process. People
leave products when they change
their creative process—everything
from working more in teams, to
expecting more from themselves,
to moving away from commercial
work. For example, a design student
increased his performance stan-
dards after a summer internship.
He complained to his Post-it notes, “I
think quality matters. I’m no longer
satisfied with one-liners.”
He felt that the Post-its actually
kept him from achieving his new
standard of success. This supports
the idea that goals diverge, and
therefore people and products lose
alignment. Designers should con-
sider how to keep their products’
goals in line with their users’ goals.
For example, designers of open
source technologies might consider
how commercializing their products
could change users’ attachment.
didn’t realize how attached I still
was. What a relief to formalize the
Participants even began to think
about other products and services
they had “ditched” in the past. This
helped them see the transitory
nature of their relationship with
technology—which may perhaps
lead them to become more respon-
sible consumers down the road.
The findings reinforce the way in
which we conceive of technology as
part of the self. And yet, as the self
changes, so must the technologies
that help to define it.
Insights for Researchers:
Why Breakups Work
As part of our larger study on creative tools, Tech Break Ups taught
us much about how people attach
and detach from their technologies,
leading to important implications
for the next generation of designers.
Dramatic performances were based
on actual relationships, grounding
the data in reality, not imagination.
Furthermore, the short duration
of the activity helped participants
focus on the most meaningful
moments and salient factors in the
relationship, boosting the quality
and efficiency of data gathered.
Finally, Tech Break Ups generated
the strong, raw emotion lacking in
other attachment research methods.
And Tech Break Ups has benefits
for both researchers and participants. It is relatively fast and easy to
administer. The format is familiar
for most participants, requiring
little preparation. Low expectations
mean low commitment, no formal
incentives, and easy recruiting.
Perhaps best of all, the informants
all described how satisfying the
experience was—even “
cathartic.” One shared this reflection: “I
I am grateful to my colleagues and
peers in the design community for their
contributions to this research, whether
through example or critique. Specifically,
I am grateful to Caitlin Martin Kennedy,
Sara Cantor Aye, Nick Switanek, and
Ron Wakkary for their helpful insights.
This research was originally published
in the Proceedings of the 8th ACM
Conference on Creativity and
Cognition, 2011, in Atlanta.
September + October 2012
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4. Daft, R.L. and Lengel, R. H. Information richness: A new approach to managerial behavior and
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth M. Gerber is an assistant professor in the Segal Design
Institute at Northwestern
University. Her research interests
include human-centered design
and innovation, crowdsourcing,
and crowdfunding. She has an M.S. in product
design and and a Ph.D. in management science
and engineering from Stanford University.
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