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Death and Catharsis: Re-defining Pleasure by Design

Bruce M. Hanington

In designing for positive emotional experience, there is no common definition of pleasure as used within the design professions. In addition to the idiosyncratic nature of human-product interactions, the tendency toward emotive design based on surface-level details for short-lived positive reactions must be broadened to address more sustained, reflective responses to products, as interpreted in context of use. A relatively unexplored area of design and emotion is constituted around ritual artifacts. For example, design research concerning the processes and products associated with death may seem at first to have little connection to a discussion of pleasure in design. Yet, the artifacts and rituals surrounding our last rite of passage can be argued as relevant to pleasure both in terms of their ability to facilitate positive memories and the need to mourn, and in reducing the effects of psychological pain through therapeutic or cathartic experience. The insights promoted through this research discussion suggest the need for broader interpretations of pleasure, and the benefits of re-defining pleasure in applications of design and emotion.


Pleasure, product, design, death, catharsis