Personality & Design: products that match people’s personality are more successful

October 28, 2015

Sailing on his vintage mahogany boat in early autumn, professor Jan Schoormans a leading expert in product personality reflects upon the increasing relevance of personality in design but also in choice and match processes. Professor Schoormans elaborates on product personality in housing, sheds light on why it is that certain products are bought and not used and shares his thoughts on growing ease of personality measurement due to the explosion of social data. He wraps up by giving his take on meaning of bumper stickers in the17-th century Dutch town of Dordrecht, a historic place.

Time-sequenced questions and transcript of the interview below.

Questions

  • 00M30 How does product personality play out in society at large?
  • 01M02 Can you give an example of preference for a product’s personality?
  • 02M11 What daily annoyances could have been prevented with personality centric design?
  • 02M41 What constitutes the paradox between choosing and using product?
  • 03.22 What does personality-centric mean for search and choice processes?
  • 03M58 How do current trends like sharing and collaborating play out in product personality?
  • 05M37 How Does Product Personality Play Out In Consumer Preferences?
  • 06M27 What was a striking finding when you designed a scale for product personality?
  • 06M54 What arguments are there for products to, yes or no, deviate from the brand personality?
  • 07M52 So what is the relevance of brand personality in relation to that of the product’s?
  • 09M17 How does the recent data explosion from social media impact the relevance of product personality?
  • 09M59 What can the current personality research in the social media lead to?
  • 10M36 What makes product personality a differentiating instrument to distinguish products with?
  • 11M17 How can we measure the ROI of investments in design?
  • 12M19 What did the introduction of the experience economy signal for design?
  • 13M40 Can we change people’s behaviour through design?
  • 15M31 What findings in the field of personality and product design can we expect to be applied shortly?
  • 16M32 How are the social media playing out in the field of personality assessment?
  • 17M12 How does product personality preference as opposed to a functional one, manifest itself in your life?
  • 18M35 Did you buy the boat because it matched your personality or was it signal something with it?
  • 19M28 Bumper stickers augment one’s personality (G. Miller, Spent 2009). How did bumper stickers manifest themselves in 17-th century Dordrecht?

Transcript

My name is Jan Schoormans. I work at the TU Delft at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. Our research focuses on understanding why consumers prefer some products and reject other products, and especially with respect to the design of product.

00M30 How does product personality play out in society at large?

We found out in our research that people prefer products if these products match their personality. So in general it means that, that if you take all the products that are on the market that there is probably a situation that the product that match with personalities of people are more successful than products that don’t match the personality of people.

01M02 Can you give an example of preference for a product’s personality?

Maybe an interesting example of the role of personality in general is the preference that consumers in the Netherlands show for, for new houses. It’s widely known that a certain style of houses, especially the houses as they were built just before the second World War, that, that style is highly preferred by consumers and that they don’t like the houses that were designed in the 60’s and 70’s.

One of the reasons for that is that they feel those houses are, are cold they, they are not what the Dutch call “gezellig”, what means cosy, and so there’s a strong preference for these, you could almost say, old fashioned houses and now if you look in the Netherlands large amounts of these new houses are built in these old style to match the personality of the existing consumer.

02M11 What daily annoyances could have been prevented with personality-centric design?

Well that’s a difficult question, I feel, because we know, of course developing products, that a lot of the annoyances are really related to the functionality of products. So, I would say that maybe 80% of all the annoyances are related to not being able to open a bottle or these kinds of situation.

02M41 What constitutes the paradox between choosing and using product?

People choose products, they choose products maybe on their functionality. But there is ample evidence from research that, that in many, many cases they don’t use these products. And one of the reasons for that might be is that they just don’t match their personality. They choose the products on, on functions and maybe on price, but if they are actually going to use them they don’t fit with their way they would like to live their lives and how they fit in the household and so on.

03M22 What does personality-centric mean for search and choice processes?

All annoyances, of course, is that people have difficulty finding the right products. So if you could help people in finding products that fit their personality, next to, of course, the functions they look for and the price they look for. And in the, in the search process and the, and the choice could be optimized and I think that, that would help people in many, many cases to make better and quicker choices.

03M58 How do current trends like sharing and collaborating play out in product personality?

The landscape of product use and product owning seem to be changing, although I think it’s going quite slowly but, for example, if you take Airbnb and you compare that with the old hotel business you could say that people choose maybe less on, on branding, because in the old days people thought, okay, let’s go for the Hilton Hotel, and then you could expect exactly what to get.

Now if you look at the Airbnb site it shows much more next to functionality, much more the personality of the, of the, of the house or apartment that you want to hire is an issue. So on, on, from that point of view you could say the product personality will be more relevant. On the other hand you can also think that like with car sharing or renting cars you see that the amount of cars that are available is quite limited. So in that case you could say that product personality doesn’t fit the preference for the car because there is only a limited amount of models that you can hire.

So on the one hand I think there are opportunities if there are a lot of diversity in the product design, but it will work against sharing because of the limited amount of difference, the limited amount of difference in product design personality.

05M37 How Does Product Personality Play Out In Consumer Preferences?

The first thing that we found out is that, we noticed that, and that maybe how the research started, that people talked about products…all the time using characteristics that you would normally use when you talk about people and people’s personality.

Like, a product is nice or a product is intelligent, or a product is childish, or it’s a well-designed product, you know, like conscientious. Based on that we designed a scale where by which we assess product personality and using this scale we found out a number of things. Maybe the most important thing is that we found out that people have a tendency to like products more that fit our personality.

06M27 What was a striking finding when you designed a scale for product personality?

So, if you, if you keep everything constant like price and functionality, then it’s clear that they go for the designs that fit our personality the best. And often people say people like dissimilar things, but what we found is that they really go for the similar things.

06M54 What arguments are there for products to, yes or no, deviate from the brand personality?

Now people get more choice in products. You could say that there is, there is an amount of possibilities to choose from. Also in the car industry, it might be not enough anymore to have one brand personality, because the brand personality will not fit all the consumers in the market and in that respect I think that the brand personality can give you some very fundamental benefits, like it’s high quality brand, very reliable brand, but next to that I think you have to diversify on the other elements, because it’s impossible to otherwise to match your products on this very diverse target group.

07M52 So what is the relevance of brand personality in relation to that of the product’s?

Well, this, this is an interesting discussion and that goes on already for, for a long time in marketing, you know, it’s, it’s the brand, how relevant is the brand. And I’m not sure whether we should talk too much about how relevant are brands of course, obviously brands are very, very important.

But like in the industry that relates to flying we saw that, that with this new brands like Ryan Air had coming in the market 20 years ago. In those days everybody is stating your brands are so relevant people will not fly with Ryan Air. But when Ryan Air started coming up to market with a very low price offer, people forgot about the brand personality and switch over to a more interesting product.

So, and there are many, many examples also in retail where, that showed the price or the product seems to be more relevant in many, many cases than the brand. So, to answer your question, might it be so that the, the product becomes more relevant than the brand, I think that in many, many cases that will be the case.

09M17 How does the recent data explosion from social media impact the relevance of product personality?

Well, I, I think what happens of course now we are much better capable of assessing in a very simple, cheap and efficient way what somebody’s personality is using you know, we can, we can even use the social media behaviour and that gives us a very valid impression of somebody’s personality and behaviour.

So, on that side, then things become easier because we have, let’s say, have the data we need. The other thing then is that, then we have to match the products to people’s personality.

09M59 What can the current personality research in the social media lead to?

An, an extremely interesting example is Ikea. They make one product that has to fit everybody. So it has to fit everybody’s personality. With the upcoming markets like adaptive manufacturing. Products that can be made on the spot. We will get more diversification of products, and this diversification of products will end in products that will be personalized then they will fit better to people.

10M36 What makes product personality a differentiating instrument to distinguish products with?

Well, yeah, I, I think, I think that until now we had to work with, let’s say, the search attributes of the product like the price and the size and all these things and it was always difficult to define what design was. People talked about style, but now I think we get the more, we get an interesting instrument to indeed differentiate between the products on a level that, that people understand because it fits their personality.

11M17 How can we measure the ROI of investments in design?

It depends quite heavily on the product category. You know with furniture for example, the design is rather important, in car industry rather important, but there are also industries where the design merely shows like innovation or technical capabilities.

So it’s, it’s very difficult to find that direct relationship as it is to find the relationship between return on investment and advertising. Everybody is quite convinced that, that without having, let’s say, well equipped designers that you will lose in the market, that you will not have also without having the right engineers and the right developers, then you will not have the innovations that you need to survive in the next ten years. But to, but to assess it is, is I think quite difficult.

12M19 What did the introduction of the experience economy signal for design?

When (Pine) wrote his book on experience economy of course we saw the products became less relevant in the market compared to services, that people were spending their money on amusement instead of hard products, and that also related to, of course, the growing economy and the growing spending power of people.

And, and for example, what you see then is that, for example, for the in, in amusement parks you can say that, that it’s, it’s only design, you know, they design an environment that people that fascinate children, that fascinate people and that’s next based on logistics, because you don’t want to have too many people waiting and so on, but, of course, based on design.

They design a sort of world that doesn’t exist in fact, and you see the design is becoming more relevant in cars it has become more relevant in electronics. The only thing is, nowadays it’s hidden design, you don’t see it anymore but products work very well, they’re not a burden, burden to you in any case. So, I think yes, indeed, design has become very important there.

13M40 Can we change people’s behaviour through design?

But to give an example, you know Don Lockton, he has a website (http://designwithintent.co.uk/) and, where he shows many, many examples how you can change people’s behaviour to design, and one of, one fascinating one is, and that’s one because that’s, that’s everybody understands immediately how that works.

In The Netherlands we have traffic lights for bikers and when you stop before the traffic lights there’s this small machine that indicates with led lights how long you still have to wait. So, you see, when the time is floating away and the amount of led lights that, that are lighted becomes less and they indicate how long you still have to wait.

They have the same and it works very well, people know they get feedback on the time they need to wait and by that we know that the amount of bicycles that don’t bike through the red light is diminished. They have the same system in China, but then the system was turned around. So they indicated in the green lights, led lights how much time is left in the green light.

Well what happen is that the people in the cars saw the time that they had to drive through the green light was diminishing and they speeded up, and that led to terrible accidents. So, in effect, you could say it’s the same design only a very, very different behaviour.

So, what design is now developing in, is thinking about situations and products that can steer people in the right direction.

15M31 What findings in the field of personality and product design can we expect to be applied shortly?

Well, well, well what we saw is we even, we even did some research with interaction and we even could prove that the way people move and I, and, and the way that products move and are handled is, can be translated in personality terms.

So personality and product personality can be a very, very sensitive way of assessing how people react to products. So, I think if you are, you are if you are, and I think it will be happening quite soon, better able to assess personality and product personality in a quick way it will be a much stronger instrument on the market.

It’s already an instrument, they are people already working on it, but it will gain much more momentum in the next, maybe, five to ten years.

16M32 How are the social media playing out in the field of personality assessment?

Well until now, of course, people got questionnaires and people had to be assessed, and then answers had to be assessed, and then answer all kinds of questions that they, that they not often like to do. We know from early personality assessments that people always have the feeling that they’re controlled or that psychologist know exactly what they are thinking and how they behave. So there is sort of negative idea related to that.

But I think now with our social media and all the data that people give away for free, it’s much easier to digest from those data what the personality of people are.

17M12 How does product personality preference as opposed to a functional one, manifest itself in your life?

Well, it’s interesting, because we’re in a, on a, on a boat now, it’s my boat and when we, we could by a hundred other boats, but why did we buy this one, you know.

It’s a, it’s a Swedish made mahogany boat made in 1950, 42, and maybe you can, can show the audience a little bit how the boat look like Peter. But the boat tells us a lot about me and my brother-in-law, we both own the boat. We both like old things, because we think they’re made brilliantly and there has been taken a lot of care in building the boat.

There is a lot of time and effort in maintaining the boat and from a functional point of view that thing is hell. We have to paint it, there’s an old, an old engine in it, it’s petrol, it stinks, it makes a lot of noise but still we like it, because we feel and that’s what we, first thing we said when we were in the process of buying the boat, the thing has, the boat has personality. So, I think that the main reason that we are in this boat now is because the boat has some personality, and that was the main reason to buy it.

18M35 Did you buy the boat because it matched your personality or was it signal something with it?

This boat is social phenomenon. The funny thing is when we, when we use the boat, and, and, and we use the boat a lot of and we see all those very, very beautiful old part of this Dutch town, Dordrecht, then a lot of people film the boat and a lot of people wave at us, and a lot of people, you know, they, they put their thumbs up like this is a very beautiful boat.

Sometimes we rent the boat out for weddings and so on. So it has social meaning, it’s clearly that this boat has social meaning and it indicates that we are, that we take responsibility for some heritage, you could say. Now the issue is did, was that the reason that we bought it? Well maybe, yes.

19M28 Bumper stickers augment one’s personality (G. Miller, Spent 2009). How did bumper stickers manifest themselves in 17-th century Dordrecht?

So here we see a statue that is called “de onbeschaamde”, which you would translate as “The Boy without Shame,” but in the days that this house was built was quite extreme. People didn’t like nakedness, so it was really a statement of low agreeableness and maybe high openness.

Here we are now with the second house, the example of the second statue of two naked figures, but now they are like mermaids, a male and a female, and clearly they are in an act of lovemaking, what was in those days really a shameful thing to show in the public space.

Interview Peter van der Bel
founder & curator of The Centre for Applied Product Personality Research