Product Design Engineering School of Design

Jessica Smith

Masters' Project
Affective Sustainability

Affective Sustainability

A Speculative Design project exploring the sustainable value of products designed to elicit an emotional attachment.

What if… we don’t need any more products?

Products are constantly being designed and redesigned for problems deemed necessary to create a product solution. In an age of both peak climate change and peak accessibility to a myriad of products for every problem, there is a lack of purpose behind so many products being designed, using finite resources to do so. There is a distinct struggle between mass consumerism and manufacturing versus product purpose and sustainability. What if we simply do not need any more products?

The Project

“To highlight to consumers and designers that a product shouldn’t be created ‘just because’ or for the solution of a minor inconvenience. It should have a significant purpose and be purchased or designed consciously, for a reason that warrants a product solution.” – Mission Statement to define The Project

The Problem

This project is more of a mission, a conversation to be had, a purpose to reassess among designers. It was concluded that Speculative Design was the best way to articulate this through a product – a form of proposing future designs of a critical nature. I wanted to create a product to trigger conversation and challenge current understanding of what the future could be. Affective Sustainability was chosen as the most suitable ‘problem’ within the Mission Statement.

Affective Sustainability is when a user behaves sustainably due to an emotional attachment. Due to this affection, the product is not thrown away lightly but instead is fixed when broken or kept longer instead of replaced. The result of this is a longer lifetime due to attachment, maybe even love. This is such a pure form of sustainability. One that does not require any conscious effort (recycling, disassembly etc). The aim was to see if it was possible to intentionally design this emotional attachment into features on a product to make that product sustainable not in the traditional, physical sense but in the emotional sense.

“Landfills around the world swell with fully functional appliances – freezers that still freeze and toasters that still toast – their only crime being a failure to sustain empathy with their users.” – Jonathan Chapman, ‘Emotionally Durable Design’

The Product

Within the problem of Affective Sustainability, what the product itself is, is not important. The product is a vessel to develop, test and demonstrate the translation of emotional attachment, into designed features on the product. In this case, that product is a kettle.

Alongside psychology research, the kettle has been designed using the standard design process as any product would. However, it has been designed with the added process and purpose of being affectively sustainable. Aspects such as material choice, technologies used, touchpoints and interactions have not only been designed to meet standard user criteria but also to instigate an emotional attachment from the user. Life cycle analyses were then completed of both a standard plastic kettle and the redesigned affectively sustainable plastic kettle to project the potential environmental impact benefit of this form of sustainability.


Emotional attachment triggers can be designed into the features of a product. This gives the user a subconscious motivation to act sustainably through the attachment they have with that product. The result of this is ultimately a longer product lifetime. Although causing an initially higher environmental impact through the materials and manufacturing used to create the product with the added emotional attachment design features, the impact of the product over its lifetime is significantly reduced.

The successful implementation of Affective Sustainability can be a genuine contributor to the goal of truly effective, long-term sustainability.

Basic Plastic Kettle

Not deemed attachable, with an average life span of 4-5 years, this was the starting point of applying Affective Sustainability into the design process to redesign this plastic kettle to be emotionally attachable and thus analyse the potential environmental benefit of doing so.

Affective Sustainability Impact Theory

The theory was that although a higher impact would be required at the initial conception of the product, by the end of it's lifetime, there would be a net benefit in environmental impact reduction.

Concept Development

Industrial design application to create a timeless aesthetic, as well as applying the interior mechanics and electronics of the kettle.

Affectively Sustainable Kettle Design

The final design of a plastic kettle, redesigned with the inclusion of features to invoke an emotional attachment, resulting in the product being affectively sustainable. A matte finish has been used on the white body to increase the perception of quality compared to standard, cheap, white appliances.

Attachment Feature: Water Level Gauge & Thermometer

A water level gauge is shown on both sides of the kettle to suit both left and right-handed users. This shows the measurement in litres and cups. A removable liquid crystal thermometer is placed in an indent on either side depending on the user. This gives a visual, colour-changing indicator of the temperature of the water inside the jug. Gamification is used here to invoke a sense of achievement in the user, allowing them to switch off the kettle at the right time so the temperature settles at an exact measurement. There is a dual purpose of refraining from re-boiling the kettle if the water inside is still hot.

Attachment Feature: Number of Boils Counter

An analogue counter counts the number of times the switch is pressed over the lifetime of the kettle. This creates a sense of achievement in the user through the use of 'streaks'. The higher the number becomes, the less likely the user is to want to throw away their kettle and start again from zero. An analogue counter makes it immune to looking out of fashion as digital features become so quickly.

Attachment Feature: Personalisation and Organic Experience

The writing on the base of the kettle jug say 'wrong way up'. This is not advertised and discovered organically by the user, creating the opportunity for a unique experience between product and user. This invokes a feeling of personalisation in the user.

Interior Access

Sliding section of the jug wall allows access to the interior mechanical and electrical parts of the kettle for repair and disassembly.

Attachment Feature: Base Construction

The base (shown upside down) connects the kettle jug to the electricity to be boiled. A recycled sand moulded part has been placed inside the main body to increase the weight. This prevents the base moving and increases the perception of quality.

Exploded Kettle Construction

Based on the same simple construction of a standard kettle, adapted to the form of the affectively sustainable kettle design.

Environmental Impact Comparison of Standard Vs. Affective Sustainability Kettle Design

Life cycle analyses results showing the impact of the initial product creation, based on the materials and manufacturing of each part. The key is to allow for a higher impact on the redesign, but still within reach to be overcome through an attainably extended lifetime e.g. it will only take an extra 1.4 years in this case for the 'kg CO2 eq. per year' impact of the redesign to balance with that of the standard kettle.

The PDE Process

The iterative design process from research to conceptualising to prototyping.