In an exercise of empathy, six members of staff at Altitude, a product innovation firm, were asked to break-up with a once cherished item. The design strategy exercise wasn’t just for fun, but functioned as a way to understand how consumers become attached to inanimate and ephemeral things. Netflix can become our best friend, until it begins recommending all the wrong things, same with the headphones that are used everyday until the sad moment when one earbud cuts out.
The breakup letters — written to a pair of headphones, Netflix, a printer, a blender, Gladware and a stud finder — draw attention to our deep dependency on certain objects as well as our fickle attitude towards them when things go wrong.
Alanna Fincke, VP of Marketing at Altitude, explains,
Reframing one’s relationship to a product as something romantic gives the user permission to exaggerate his or her biggest frustrations and wishes. That, in turn, can help designers understand the emotional connection between people and their products, services, and experiences.
See the break up letters below:
Blender oh Blender, I just can’t take the betrayal anymore. There is so much promise when I think that the blend is going to be perfect. You never give me a clue though that I have gone too far, given too much. You then proceed without warning to spray hot soup all over my kitchen, my person, my emotions. I just can’t take the uncertainty anymore. One day a perfect smoothie, the next a face full of pureed lentils scalding me and scarring me for life. I am sure that there is someone out there with a better measure of your capacity but it is not me. I’m sure it’s me and not you, but I am going to have to leave you at Goodwill. Paul Gregory
Dear Stud Finder, Relationships are based on trust, and I no longer trust you. Every time I ask you the same question I get different answers. And I’ve caught you red-handed in outright lies. I’m afraid one of these days you’ll trick me into drilling into a high-voltage cable. Are you really any better than living by pure chance? I don’t think so. Good luck searching, Dan Ostrower
Dearest Printer, I am ending this relationship, now. When you were flirting with me in the Staples showroom you promised me a carefree and easy life. No drivers to download, no CDs to install, no futzing with finding the neighbors’ WiFi by accident. You bought me drinks, made me take you home, and now my life is a mess. After many hours wasted trying to get PDFs to transfer to my Mac and Word docs to print, sadly I have had enough. I am returning you to Staples and will try to find a new printing partner. Sincerely, Paul Cox
Dearest Netflix, Why do you think I want to watch Toddlers and Tiaras? I thought after all this time together, you would know me but you don’t get me at all. I have wasted too much time browsing your mediocre offerings, and I’m done. It’s not me, it’s you. You just don’t see me. I don’t have time to wait around for you to get upgraded–my digital clock is ticking. Don’t show up in my mailbox or Xbox again. You’re the worst. Love, Cindy Weflen P.S. I’ve been cheating on you with Amazon Instant Video. And PBS.com.
Dear GladWare containers, It’s just too much. I was looking for something simple and uncomplicated. At first, everything seemed great–clean, simple, easy. Best of all, you were cheap. Exactly what I was looking for. But… first impressions can be deceiving. You’re not simple. You’re really hard. You have trouble keeping your lid on in stressful moments. What I thought was a good fit–isn’t. It’s not me–it’s you. You never fit! Worst of all you won’t go quietly into that dark cabinet, always refusing to be neatly categorized and stacked. Over time, I’ve realized your cheapness has meant you’re unclean. Good luck! Craig McCarthy
Dear Apple headphones, We have been in this together for a year now, and I can’t say we haven’t shared some great memories on the subway and thousands of miles in the air. But I just can’t keep doing this. You are unreliable and temperamental and a really hard guy to pin down. Every time I want to share a long walk with you, you act squirmy and distant. Apple was playing matchmaker when they first introduced us. They knew I loved music, and that we would be a great match. Because of you music isn’t the same… but without you there is none. Even though this is going to be very hard, I think it’s best we go our separate ways. Thanks for all the good tunes! Karuna Harishanker P.S. Do you have other friends I can meet?