The Culture of Product Consumption

A product is an inanimate entity. This is what you think when you reverberate this word in your mind. A radio, a DVD player, a car, a software application or a bottle of juice are some of the typical products that we use on a daily basis. We just use them, right? We take that usage has the same underlying physical aspect. We drive the car, we drink the juice, and we listen to the DVD player, etc. by making a series of mechanical movements. It is so simple. Why is then the design of these products so complex?

The reality is that when we use products, no matter how simple they are, we register emotions that are either directly or indirectly caused by the act of use. We may experience pleasure, or frustration or the feeling we are important and get good feedback from others. These emotions define us and they are shaped by our personal history and by what these products represent to us as influenced by social norms. Each emotional experience is deposited in layers of memories and from which we draw inspiration when we decide what to buy.

The product design is complex because understanding how these memories are generated and influence our buying behaviour is very difficult. A hundred years ago this didn’t matter. A man produced a pair of shoes and another man bought them, or bartered to get them, because this is what was available. It was a simple matter of matching money with the product. When you got the money, you rushed to buy the product. You didn’t have much choice then. It was cold, the feet were hurting or the shoes you were wearing were ragged, in a deplorable state, so you had to buy those shoes, if you had the money. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like the producer. This was a matter of physical practicality.

Today is a bit different. You choose before you buy, and this is where all those memories kick in whispering in your inner ear what to do. By the time you execute the purchase, your mind already processed lots of whispers and it was set up to make a decision before you even knew it. This is a cultural process. It is both a translation of your cultural heritage into action, but also it micro-contributes into the big cultural cloud we are part of.

Understanding the cultural process behind the purchase is important for product design in a broad sense. Whoever captures those cultural nuances in the process of product design has a sharp competitive edge. This is where the social networks are so powerful. Of all networks, Facebook has its own competitive edge because it has figured out quite a bit how this cultural process works.

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