Hassenzahl et al. (2010) Needs, affect, and interactive products – Facets of user experience

The paper presents a study exploring the idea of fulfillment of basic needs as the source of positive experience with interactive products and technologies (phones, mp3-players, navigation devices). The study focused only on positive experiences and the underlying needs behind them. The study comprised of a questionnaire and subsequent analysis. In the questionnaire, participants (N = 548) would describe a positive experience they have had with technology and answer questions regarding need fulfillment and feelings during the experience. In the analysis, the authors attempted to find a link between fulfilled needs and positive experiences, with positive affect being the linking attribute.

The paper describes experiences as always new and unique (perpetual novelty), which means that each occurring experience is different. Experiences can be described in detail after they occur and thus analyzing them is possible. By connecting experiences to fulfilled needs, the authors attempt to categorize experiences in a way that designing for (perpetually novel) experiences would be possible.

The results of the study suggest that experiences can indeed be categorized based on the primary need they fulfill. With the help of this categorization, the qualitative differences of experiences can be further analyzed. Better understanding of the reasons behind certain positive experiences helps in designing for user experience by recognizing primary needs of users and attempting to fulfill them.

The most often recognized needs in the study (as the source of positive experience):

1. Stimulation

  • Experiencing something new
  • Finding new sources and types of stimulation

2. Competence

  • Successful completion of difficult tasks and projects
  • Taking on and mastering new challenges

3. Relatedness

  • A sense of contact with important people
  • Close and connected or strong sense of intimacy with others

4. Popularity

  • Being a person whose advice others seek out and follow

5. Meaning

  • Sense of deeper purpose
  • Deeper understanding of self or becoming one’s true self

6. Security

  • Having a structured life
  • Glad of having a comfortable set of routines and habits

The authors point out that the list of needs is not meant as a definitive list, but rather chosen to cover most of the experiences in the study without becoming overly complex. Some absent needs may prove to be very important in creating positive experiences. The occurrence of needs also depends on technology in question, and more situation-specific research is required when dealing with specific technologies.

The fulfillment of needs strongly affects the perception of the use of a product or a service. In subsequent use evaluations, need fulfillment was linked to the hedonic quality of the product or service, i.e., the potential of the product (or service) to support pleasure in use or ownership. Pragmatic quality was not found to be affected as much by fulfilled needs. Pragmatic quality (similar to perceived usability) was, however, evaluated to be poor if some needs (e.g., security = “deficiency need”) were not fulfilled. Usability is concerned with the instrumentality of a product, but is not a source of pleasure in itself.

According to the study, the link between need fulfillment and user experience should be reproducible. This can help in designing for more specific user experience, in terms of techniques to evoke and shape experiences. Furthermore, the basic needs can help in understanding what creates a positive experience, i.e., what the sources and types of pleasure are.

The paper proposes an interesting idea of need fulfillment being the source of positive experiences. However, the linking of experiences to universal psychological needs may be overly general. Further studies could narrow the scope into more specific needs, thus yielding more concrete results and possibly even some experience design guidelines.