Joyful Design

Which qualities stimulate product attachment—what brings us to like/enjoy a product more than others?

Identity Based Human Behavior

Understanding ones own identity—who one is and what one believes—is a fundamental human drive. That fact points out that consumers like products, brands and consumption behaviors that are linked to self-association. That simply means for example that someone who sees oneself as an athlete will likely behave in ways that correspond to what it means to “be” an athlete. [1] That concept also is established in all forms of marketing and communication. An example from my previous research that uses this knowledge of the importance of self-association is the Branding Wheel of 12 Archetypes. [2] Another concept that includes that aspect in regards to design is the Positive Design Framework, which consists of three layers: design for pleasure design for virtue and design for personal significance. [3] Also, the aspect of self-association is deeply linked to objects with symbolic meaning, which is one of the most important characteristics when it comes to product attachment and happiness. [4]

“If a product symbolizes aspects of a person’s happiness, he/she is more likely to keep it, because losing the product implies that the strong symbolic meaning and thus the ‘happiness trigger’ is lost.” —Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton

At the time ones identity becomes central to self-conception, one starts to pay attention to many secondary associations to ones self-conception [5]. For example, individuals may integrate attitudinal and behavioral norms, emotion profiles [6], and a variety of other identity-linked concepts in memory [7]. All this together defines normative beliefs, attitudes, emotions and behaviors that define what one thinks, feels, and does. [8]

An interesting fact from the research paper “Identity-based consumer behavior” by Americus Reed, Stefano Puntoni, Mark Forehand and Luk Warlop is that language directly is linked to our perception of identity. Thus, depending on the language that we use, our identity/character changes. That is, because people do not have one identity*, but we indeed carry multiple layers of identity in us that can be triggered. One interesting finding was that English as a language often serves as a cue for a person’s cosmopolitan identity. That knowledge gets especially used in marketing, where products often get labeled in English language to consciously create an image of open-mindedness. [9]

The knowledge of importance of identity and self conception enables us to design relevant products for certain groups of individuals on a rough level. But let us take a deeper look to which identity-related information allows discrimination between options. Which means that, as mentioned in the beginning, an “athlete identity” helps to discriminate between a pair of Nike shoes and a pair of Crocs. But if we want to discriminate between a pair of Nikes or Adidas shoes it gets harder. According to the research paper “Identity-Based Consumer Behavior” there are five forms of relevance that influence these criteria and decision: object relevance, symbolic relevance, goal relevance, action relevance and evaluation relevance. [10]

1 Object relevance
Object relevance exists when an object is part of the symbolic constellation of products that define an identity. [11] [12] An example is a working mother that may be more favorable to an automobile that emphasizes safety and practicality. Object relevance is particularly common with brands that come to symbolize paricular user groups or “fit” with a particular identity.

2 Symbolic relevance
Symbolic relevance exists when the expression of a belief or the possession of an object communicates or reinforces one’s identity in the eyes of others. [13] That is because people likely judge about others based on their knowledge of other people’s purchase decisions. Therefore, products provide a “social stock of knowledge that people use in typifying those they meet”. [14] This general concept of symbolic congruence has been used to explain consumer attraction to products, brands and retail environments. [15] [16]

3 Goal relevance
Goal relevance exists when a potential belief or behavior is related to an issue or outcome that is important to the individual’s identity. These beliefs or behaviors could include the expression of an attitude, specific group-related behaviors, or simply affiliation with a product or brand.

4 action relevance
Action-relevant objects and behaviors allow the consumer to perform behavioral functions associated with a particular identity. For example, a “baseball player” may require a bat, glove and cleats to perform within that identity. [17]

5 evaluation relevance
Evaluation relevance refers to the extent to which the evaluative content of the identity has sufficient clarity and specificity to inform the consumer’s evaluation of the object (or brand). The goal is to guide a behavioral response. An example is an “urban teenager” who evaluates shoe brands, and finds several brands that have co-opted young, urban imagery in their advertising and are thus not differentiable on this identity dimension. In this situation, the absence of a clear identity-related norm provides her with an inadequate basis for choice [18], and thus her identity therefore fails to discriminate between the available options.

By working with those five layers, relevant, identity-based design can be derived. That can not only lead to a joyful design experience but furthermore can enhance product life cycles and therefore support efforts of a more sustainable relation to products.

The identity conflict principle
Any given identity is not possessed in isolation—each identity is one of many held identities that must be integrated into a person’s overall self-conception. Research on the interplay of multiple identities generally suggests that individuals seek to maintain harmony between their various identities. [19] [20] Finally, because people may hold multiple iden- tities, while each of the identities is not always consistent with all the others in its implications, identities may conflict. This in turn will moti- vate cognitive activity and behavior that aim to resolve such conflict (the conflict principle) either by active attempts to create a harmonized personal identity or by compartmentalizing identities into separable partitions of one’s life experience.

The identity-verification principle
Consumers will actively monitor the extent to which they stay true to their manifested identity. This “sought-after identity” operates similarly to an “ideal” self [21]. Higgins argued that as the perceived distance between a consumer’s actual and ideal selves increases, the consumer’s motivation to exert effort to reach the ideal also increases. People are motivated to behave consistently with their identities, which become the subject of goal striving and will drive corrective action or thought whenever the identity is at stake.

The relevance principle
Once an identity is adopted, the surrounding environment and the people and objects in it are evaluated for their relevance with respect to the identity, and a person will think, feel and behave consistently with the identity whenever it is deemed relevant in that situation.


[1] Reed, Americus / Puntoni, Stefano / Forehand, Mark / Warlop, Luk: International Journal of Research in Marketing. Identity-Based Consumer Behavior: 2012, S. 310—321

[2]  Medium. 12 Brand Archetypes You Can Use to Effectively Position Your Brand. URL:

[3] Delft Institute of Positive Design: Positive Design Reference Guide: 2015. URL:

[4] Mugge, R., Schoormans, J. P. L., & Schifferstein, H. N. J. (2008). Product attachment: Design strategies to stimulate the emotional bonding to products. In H. N. J. Schifferstein & P. Hekkert (Eds.), Product experience (pp. 425-440). Amsterdam, the Netherland: Elsevier.

[5] Oyserman, D. (2009). Identity-based motivation: Implications for action-readiness, procedural readiness, and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19, 250–260.

[6] Verrochi-Coleman, N. M., & Williams, P. (2012). Feeling like myself: Emotion regulation and social identity. Working paper.

[7] Mercurio, K., & Forehand, M. (2011). An interpretive frame model of identity dependent learning: The moderating role of content–identity association. Journal of Consumer Research, 38, 555–577.

[8] Reed, Americus / Puntoni, Stefano / Forehand, Mark / Warlop, Luk: International Journal of Research in Marketing. Identity-Based Consumer Behavior: 2012, S. 310—321

[9] ebda.

[10] ebda.

[11] Kleine, R. E., Kleine, S. S., & Kernan, J. B. (1993). Mundane consumption and the self: A social identity perspective. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2, 209–235.

[12] Reed, A., II (2004). Activating the self-importance of consumer selves: Exploring identity salience effects on judgments. Journal of Consumer Research, 31, 286–295.

[13] Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 139–168.

[14] Shavitt, S., & Nelson, M. R. (2000). The social-identity function in person perception: Communicated meanings of product preferences. In G. Maio, & J. M. Olson (Eds.), Why we evaluate: Functions of attitudes (pp. 37–57). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

[15] Malhotra, N. K. (1988). Self-concept and product choice: An integrated perspective. Journal of Economic Psychology, 9, 1–28.

[16] Sirgy, J. M., Grewal, D., & Mangleburg, T. (2000). Retail environment, self-congruity, and retail patronage: An integrative model and a research agenda. Journal of Busi- ness Research, 49, 127–138.

[17] Kleine, R. E., Kleine, S. S., & Kernan, J. B. (1993). Mundane consumption and the self: A social identity perspective. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2, 209–235.

[18] Kallgren, C. A., Reno, R. R., & Cialdini, R. B. (2000). A focus theory of normative conduct: When norms do and do not affect behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1002–1012.

[19] Amiot, C. E., de la Sablonnière, R., Terry, D. J., & Smith, J. R. (2007). Integration of social identities in the self: Toward a cognitive-developmental model. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 364–388.

[20] Roccas, S., & Brewer, M. (2002). Social identity complexity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 88–106.

[21] Higgins, E. T. (1986). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94, 319–340.