The Human Element of Product Design: Insights from Kansei Engineering

packaging Oct 14, 2021

Interview with Stergios Bititsios- Owner and Strategy, Insights, and Design Research Consultant of Dandelion Insights

Recent events have caused the research, development, and marketing landscape to radically change including the passing of personal data protection regulations and data tracking opt-out measures in the tech space—some approaches have been truly "cookie-less" years before this, however, for startups and at-scale companies making their respective product design and marketing strategies.

Could it be time to get back to the heart—and the emotion—of the matter?

Hubbers talked to Stergios Bititsios, a leader and crucial part of breakthroughs in Kansei engineering and emotional design, about his contributions to the growth of the field and companies he has consulted using these techniques.

What do you do as a strategy, insights, and design research consultant in previous work and your firm?

I'm an external partner to global CPG/FMCG companies and brands and my role is to bring the voice of the consumer closer to the innovation process. I hope to do the same helping derive insights for fellow co-creators, inventors, and collaborators on Hubbers through Kansei.

Everyone has their inspiration—what inspired you to pursue Kansei engineering at such an early stage?

I found the field extremely fascinating outside being among one of maybe the first to study Kansei in the UK and possibly Europe in general. Being in the vanguard of a new field gives great opportunity for career journey as an early adopter and student.

Granted this is not without its reservations either—this was a very tough concept to understand when I graduated in 2006 when applying to several companies though at that point several were not ready. I admit there were times where I felt I wanted to quit saying "Why do I even bother?"

Looking back traction has been made roughly 20 years after. Several of the underlying points of Kansei have found their way into the now popular "design thinking" approach and the ever-growing field of user interface/experience (UI/UX) design in the last 5 years.

Kansei engineering is probably a new term for our audience—what is your definition and do you have any case studies of its use?

Well, it's a much more holistic approach addressing the categorical aspects, emotional needs, and pain points from products in development.

One case study involved the development of a flagship air freshener by AirWick that used a new, environmentally friendly formula. It was my job to identify the expectations, emotional interaction, and overall addition to its immediate surroundings and ambiance.

To put it simply: "We have a mainstay product, but how would it make the customers 'feel?' Would they make a better emotional reaction to the fact it's dispersing the spray further making it inherently 'good' in an emotional sense? Would the overall design of the product also make it fit in and look like it's organically part of a home setting?"  

I developed a modular methodology identifying expectations, the needs, the pain points, and overall problems that needed to be emotionally addressed using a mix of user observation, in-depth interviewing and rating exercises. We identified several aspects from these activities to further understand the emotional interaction and translated these insights into technical efficacy.

A set of prototypes were created based on this and iteratively improved upon to further solidify our predictive expectation modelling going from perception to judgement then testing new emotional requirements—this was very cost advantageous in contrast with the sometimes cost-prohibitive passive, statistical approaches that leave the emotional aspects out.

This also possibly contributed to the 30% sales growth in Reckitt's AirWick brand after the new brand extension variant was put on the market.

credit: Stergios Bititsios

Do you think recent trends in data privacy including GDPR will affect Kansei?

That's where the main difference lies between insights made from "big data" and Kansei.

Kansei takes participation consent into account alongside the human interaction aspect when in the focus group stage. There is a difference when companies may passively "spy" on your audience using content trackers among other methods where Kansei has a much more organic approach. While "big data" can be cross-referenced it often leads to the same constructive insights.

That's why I like Hubbers' approach. There is great transparency and you're not forced to contribute—this creates the versatility, flexibility, and cocreation space sorely needed. Tracking is not of essence here.

What did you see in Hubbers before getting in touch with us?

First I'd have to say it was Ben's personality. There was a great underpinning of honesty—if I was going to invest my time whether in a project, platform, or what have you Ben has the qualities I'm looking for.

I would also say Hubbers is the future of collaboration. The next generation of brand development is going to be crowdsourced among global teams and the platform definitely gives the co-creation space to do so—with the technology to do so now, it's a no-brainer.

We can agree neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and design balance also make a great brand—could you speak on that in a Kansei context and how Hubbers can help?

Of course.

Hubbers has the collaborative global ecosystem that brings disciplines together with respect to a wide range of solutions, experience, and personal backgrounds.

This will be heavily advantageous as companies and creators alike address the emotional response and needs of new markets bridging the gap between cultures as a product is introduced into a new geographical area of interest.

Being a "change agent" has become somewhat of a worn-out term. What would you advise for future true disruptors in their respective field?

Great question. The most important aspect is having patience, passion, belief, and persistence—you have to stick to your guns and believe in it 100 percent, otherwise how will it work?

An illuminating experience was when I was put through my MPhil dissertation cross-examination in Kansei engineering: a professor from another university stated that Kansei would not work, add value, or become anything substantial.

I was motivated, determined, and ready to defend this new field. I had to put my foot down and say that I will prove that it works.

You will definitely be knocked down and may have some doubt but you must stay persistent, no matter what.

Stergios is hosting Cambridge/London Hubbers community, you can join London community here.

If you are a professional/expert/creator or investor in the packaging industry, you can join Hubbers group on packing/packaging topic (here if you are already registered) or sign up as a packaging expert . Stergios will be happy to have you.

Have a project that requires Stergios skills, you can find him on the expert marketplace.

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Hubbers Team

co-writing stories about Hubbers creators, experts and investors co-building a better tomorrow.

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