The Product-Emotion Cycle and Relationship Between People and Things

Ankur Kushwaha | 30th March 2019

The things that now shape and consume most people’s lives, such as computers, televisions, and phones, have the capacity to induce a whole host of emotional responses. A relationship exists between users and the things they interact with; we refer to this relationship as the ‘Product-Emotion Cycle’. The Product-Emotion Cycle is essentially the series of changes that occur both in the product and the user during the process of a user-object interaction. A user feels an initial emotional response, which affects the way they then behave with the product; the product then changes as a result, which then induces or maintains an emotional response. This cycle continues for the duration of an interactive experience. Successful products are those that induce positive emotional responses, which are also fitting for that product and meet the expectations of the user.

The objects and things at our disposal largely determine how well we can attain a goal. A chef without knives, saucepans, frying pans, a spatula, and many other pieces of kitchen equipment is unlikely to maintain the title ‘chef’ for very long. We cannot catch fish without a net, fishing rod, spear or some other set of objects which allow us to remove the slippery animal from the water. Without flint and tinder, we would have been unable to start fires to cook food and stay warm. Quite simply, without ‘things’, we would not be who we are today, and, perish the thought, we might not be here at all.

Recent Things and Emotion

Every ‘thing’ (i.e. object, tool, device, technology, or any other usable item) we use is selected on the basis of its potential to help us improve our physical or mental well-being. The degree to which the chosen item satisfies our intentions has a significant impact on our emotional state, regardless of whether it is chosen for physical or mental betterment. Even things that cause us pain or discomfort, such as high-heeled shoes and tight clothes, are chosen on the basis that they make us feel better. The design of the things we use, especially the things we use in our everyday lives, and their influence on our physical and mental well-being is, therefore, an important area for research and investigation.

 The Product-Emotion Cycle

From the first emotional response, a sequence of changes or events occurs, which we will refer to as the ‘Product-Emotion Cycle‘. The Product-Emotion Cycle addresses the effect a product or object has on the user, and the effect of the user’s resulting actions on the behavior of the thing itself. The product induces an immediate emotional response from the user, which affects the way the user behaves with the product. The user’s behavior influences how the object behaves in turn, which then results in changes to the object. These changes then evoke or maintain an emotional response from the user. This cycle continues until the user ceases his/her interaction with the object, but during the process of interaction, one or more emotional states are experienced throughout. In essence, the Product-Emotion Cycle simply refers to the relationship between the user and an object, and how both change in response to the other’s actions.

Classifying Emotional Responses

The user’s intentions and the nature of the product do, however, influence the classification of a ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ feeling. For example, to a smartphone user, shock and fear are negative emotions (think about the upheaval caused by the rare but true cases of exploding mobile phone batteries!), but to a computer game player, they are positive emotions associated with the overall gaming experience (think about how successful horror games like Resident Evil are). Therefore, the emotions evoked do not necessarily have to be what we would typically classify as positive, but they must be fitting and appropriate for that particular thing. A pager would not be particularly popular if it induced instant terror the moment it beeps, nor would a stethoscope that causes the doctor to burst into laughter provide a fitting and appropriate emotional response.


All things evoke emotions in their users. Whether we are wearing a simple T-Shirt, climbing a ladder, using a chopping board, typing on a keyboard, watching a DVD, each of these things we use in our day will have evoked an emotion. We may have focused on the impact of objects on our emotional state when we are using them, but many objects produce an emotional response by their simple presence in our surroundings, and they are often bought for this exact reason. Ornaments and the general objet d’art that adorn our shelves, walls, and rooms, are rarely used, but they help to create an emotional experience or to evoke previous emotional experiences.

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Ankur Kushwaha

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