This is a review on The Meaning of Affinity and the Importance of Identity in the Designed World authored by Matthew Jordan. I would highly suggest reading the paper for more details on the concept of affinity applied to design and the methodology he suggests to collect relevant research.
Several elements in any design determine its success, measured by the perception, adoption and use by the designer, client, business, or market. Matthew Jordan writes a piece to identify and highlight the element of affinity, found as a compelling factor in whether a design is successful or not. Though usefulness, usability, novelty, and price are also briefly mentioned, Jordan focuses the majority of his paper on defining affinity in the realm of design, its relationship with identity, methods to research it, and how we methodically apply it to design thinking. This paper explores deeper into the driving connection people form and keep with specific products. As the designer attempts to mold a user experience that forms lasting connections, affinities are considered to hook viewers to the final product, forming a psychological bond and attraction to the design’s style, feel, and meaning.
Jordan cleverly defines affinity combining two common definitions found in chemistry and biology. Phrases like, “attractive force” and “enter into and remain in combination” explains affinity on a sub-particle level. The biological viewpoint describes as a “relation… involving resemblance in structural plan and indicating a common origin.” Jordan states a similarity found in a piece and ourselves. The design reflects identity and creates “strong passions for certain designs.”
Who am I with your work?
Jordan points out the saturated notion of beauty and what is aesthetically-pleasing to viewers. Ideas like balance, contrast, and creating tension on the design are basic principles cited in ancient philosophy and writings. He moves to an adjacent topic involving with “affinities based on self-image.” He mentions past, present, and future tense. We relate past (or nostalgic) identity with who we were and the past experiences we choose to remember. Present (definitive) and future (aspirational) are affinity types that associate with our identification of self. With the now type, we focus on listing ourselves with and belonging to relatable communities. I personally relate with college students, more specifically graduate students, and therefore include that in my identity. I plan to associate myself with a career and company in the near future. I plan to also include myself in the community of family men, with a wife and kids, in the future. Continuing to future identity, Jordan uses examples like “eHarmony” and “Facebook” to state that a person creates the person that they want to become, projecting values and likable character traits.
Always on the sunny side
A point that Jordan makes about affinities is that they are always positive. From definition to application, it is an attractive force, an explanation to why you are drawn a piece, hopefully mimicking the identity that you, the viewer or fellow designer, relate to and hope to become in the future. He mentions the opposite being aversion, being repelled by a piece. Not investigated in this paper, my personal reasoning for the aversion would either be a disconnection to the piece, ( I can’t see myself in this piece or a part of what it means!) or even more psychologically intriguing/disturbing, a connection to the piece that a person doesn’t want to find, (I would never commit such an atrocity, it is sick! But maybe I secretly wish to divulge this desire.) Would be a fitting counterpart to write about this dark side of human psyche.
Researching the emotional connections
Jordan mentions the challenging nature of researching affinities. With discussion-based, open-ended techniques, researchers must enter and observe participants on an internal, psychological level. Not the easiest to address, especially when you have to build a safe zone to open people up to share emotions. No strangers can succeed with this research methodology, and Jordan highlights techniques like the narrative or the associative, allowing for imagination to help identify the style the group thinks, reacts, and organizes a list of details. He mentions providing key images and beginning tools to assist with the launch of ideas and their responses. Applied, these techniques could yield powerful results, purely qualitative, but essential to gauge how participants think.
Values, tone, and action!
After researching the participants, understanding the psychology and emotions needed to consider for successful implementation, Jordan moves to action. He lays out a very familiar process for design, whether for branding, service, industrial, or interaction. The steps include identifying the community’s core values, establishing the character and tone for the design, implementing principles and referring to guidelines of implementation, and finally design action. This process refers to common steps in the action stage, from early prototyping to development, testing, and refinement. Jordan caters to traditional models of design, but remembers the goal of his investigation. The process leads to the successful implementation of a designed product, guaranteed to create affinity and attraction by the right audience.
In an area that focuses tremendous amounts of resources on testing usability and usefulness, (a similar area of research includes other factors like motivation and adoption in regards to the interaction technology), it is great to note a valuable perspective on the concept of affinity with design. I personally relate to that psychological love to a piece or product because of the design, the look, and/or the feel of it. The ability to record and process qualitative data to help understand the minds of markets and related entities is extremely valuable. Matthew Jordan is articulating an area that needs more work and research done to collect relevant data. I cannot wait to see the next stage investigating this topic.