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EXPLORING DURABLE RELATIONSHIPS 13 stories about peoples’ LONG-term relationships with consumer products

Organized and Compiled by Greg Burkett


his, above anything else, is a collection of stories that have been provided for your personal interpretation. Really, though, this book is the culmination of a qualitative research project. The project employed the use of participatory photography and storytelling to explore the nature of peoples’ long-term relationships with products. The hope with the design of this book is that you will read these stories and draw conclusions of your own about what it all means. To the right you will notice 5 colored bars. These bars represent some themes that I encountered through further analysis of these stories. I’m not going to tell you what they are now, but try to see if they make any sense to you. These stories have been provided mostly un-edited. This includes a lot of typos and colloquial wording. Please don’t hold it against the participants. At the end of this book you will find several pages show my further analysis of these stories. This is just one man’s interpretation, so please feel free to let me know your interpretation of these stories. Thanks for reading, Greg Burkett



John Allen (taylor Guitar) Heather Consla (tennis Shoes) Christopher Couse (Ibook G4) Danielle Hacche (Portfolio) Stephen Leathers (Ipod) Andrea Leggitt (Alarm Clock) Andrew Machwart (Space Heater) Chris Meierling (Yamaha Receiver) Tate Ragland (Shoes) Brian Salapek (Ipod) Jeff Scala (Electric Pencil Sharpener) Cody Stonerock (Alarm Clock) Justin Wells (Backpack)











01 03 05 07 09 11 13 15 17 19 21 23

JOHN ALLEN Age: When I bought the guitar: 17? Now: 25 State: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Michigan Product: Taylor 312-CE guitar How long you’ve owned it: 8 years


bought this product after saving for it while i was living at my parents house. all of my needs were financially taken care of. So with the money i earned from working at the hunt club, I bought this thing. it was 1200 dollars. Since then I have taken good care of it. Too much money for me too break it. I always play guitar. I love it. I play guitar when im happy, sad, bored, etc. So i would say that every emotion i have is wrapped up in this thing. when I look at it I dont get an overwhelming sense of joy. when I first bought it I did, but throughout the years, it has been associated more and more with negative emotions. I hated highschool, and the town I lived in, so when I graduated, I moved very far away. The guitar came with me, but got a lot less use. I think I play less when I am happy. While playing picking it up one time i bumped the edge of the guitar on a table and dinged it. I also discovered a small splash of clearcoat on the fretboard that i didnt see when purchasing it. Contrary to everything any designer has ever said, thes blemishes did not make my guitar endearing. they pissed me off. after school and a little bit of work, i moved back to michigan on the other side of the state, and this came as well. this is the only guitar i have consistantly moved with me because of the quality of sound and playability. is that a word? At the new place, I started to teach my wife caitlin how to play, but she gave up quickly. After moving back to michigan i had more free time so i began to play more. and noticed a resurgence in its use with every new style i ran across, and with every new interest in music. I used to be into ripping solos and trying complicated stuff, lately i have toned down, and am more interested in melodies. I cant sing, but i do anyways, and use the guitar 

to pick out the rhythm and melodies. I bought a small amount of recording equipment recently and this inspired my latest spike in playing. I am very focused for a very small amount of time and i have ultra add. so i need extra things to rekindle my love for a product. This is where i stand with it today, oh yea, There are no antidotes to this guitar. if you are bitten you will die within hours. and finally... i dont want to do your job for you, and this may be super obvious, but Ive noticed with the guitar and every other product ive examined that the longevity of the product always has to to with outside forces. rarely the build of product itself. It could be a service attached to the product, new add ons for the product, new needs for the product, constant outside forces making you use the product... etc. always something new to keep interest.

HEATHER CONSLA Age: 28 State: Maryland Product: Tennis Shoes How long you’ve owned it: 5 years


esus had sandals. Dorothy Gale from Kansas was gifted ruby slippers. Victoria Page wore her enchanted crimson ballet slippers. Michael had his Air Jordans—and soon thereafter so did every other American consumer during the 1990s. Models need stilettos. The Granolas have Birkenstocks. I, Heather Consla have Adidas tennis shoes.

old city Stockholm with my gorgeous Swedish friend Love (pronounced Lou-vah—yes ladies, the name fits him), treading carefully at the grave of my Great-great grandmother in Halland (also Sweden), and finally schlepping my travel bags, guitar and souvenirs through the Frankfurt airport on my return trip to the United States.

They are old-school cream colored 1970s tennis style kicks with light blue pearlescent stripes. I bought them in April of 2003, my golden year. I just finished celebrating my twenty third birthday while I was living and working in Germany during that year. I wanted to buy something really practical with my money that I could have forever, such as a nice watch or pair of earrings. However, while passing by Tretter on Marienplatz, I decided that since I lived in the Alps and summer was approaching I should rather have a pair of quality shoes. Of course they should be Adidas as I was a German resident at the time and what better way to demonstrate my love of the Vaterland than to buy Deutsch and hike proudly. I did just that.

I am nostalgic, sentimental and philosophical by nature. My shoes mean so much more to me than just a foot covering to protect my feet from earth and weather. They took me on my first round trip of Europe, a tour I never in a million years would have dreamed that I would realize. Moreover, I was guided through new places by friends and family making the trip the very best time of my life. My Adidas saw me to the trip, through the trip and home. They have been with me through the metaphorical mountains and valleys I have scaled on my way to reacclimating myself to American culture.

My cream Adidas tennis shoes with light blue pearlescent stripes took me on the trip of my life. Never since the summer of 2003 have I ever witnessed so many intriguing people, breathtaking scenery and participated in such spontaneous adventures. These are the memories that get me through all of my vanilla phases in life: hiking up and down the Alps, biking the lakeside vineyards of Switzerland, kicking my feet up on a patio and enjoying my first Swiss fondue while chatting and listening to Simon and Garfunkel, strolling through Amsterdam, walking with lilting steps through enchanted 

A consumer product can act as a rite of passage such as a first car, an engagement ring, a piece of furniture, a lawnmower, an RV or a wheel chair. Of all the consumer products of life that may define a person, for me it’s the Adidas. Who knew? Or for the Germans, wer wußte es?

CHRISTOPHER COUSE Age: 23 State: NE Product: iBook G4 How long you’ve owned it: 3 years


grew up on using PC’s, aside from using a few Macintosh computers in middle school. In the summer of 2005 I had an internship with a local computer you used Macintosh computers for their creative purposes. After a week I feel in love the Mac OS and the style of the computer case. In November of 2005 as I was returning back to college I bought an iBook G4. I had used bulky desktop PC’s for previous years & I wanted to buy something small & portable. After receiving the laptop in the mail I spent at least a solid month learning the ins & outs of the OS along with personalizing it with custom desktop wallpaper & icons. I was hooked. I used it everywhere & took it with me wherever I went. It has helped me out quite a few times with finding directions & helping me get back into my motel room when on vacation. Portable devices have away of quickly winning your heart, because of their flexibility to be powerful, lightweight, & have some connectivity to people (i.e. wi-fi, ethernet, phone). Since I’ve bought it I have also bought an aluminum iMac & an iPhone 3G. I bought the iMac because I wanted something a little more powerful & the iPhone because I wanted something a little more portable. I use all 3 daily; maybe not the iBook so much, but it does get used throughout the week. Even though my iBook is easily obsolete, with 3 or 4 re-freshes on Apple’s laptops since it’s purchase, I still love it. I would not trade it in for a MacBook, because it has become a part of my life. I plan on using it until the

day it doesn’t start up, but Apple makes their products so well that I know I still have at least another 5 years worth of use out of it.

DANIELLE HACCHE Age: 29 State: AZ Product: Portfolio Owned it: 13 yrs


believe my mum bought this for me in high school, its something pretty essential for lugging large drawings, small paintings to and from school in. I was pretty good at keeping it organized during school and college, cleaning it out regularly, getting rid of the old work to make room for the new. I traveled back and forth to England with it, and also all around England on the train when I was going for college interviews. It was rather cumbersome taking that giant thing on the train, I remember people clambering over it when they passed me in the isle! It was a bit of an embarrassment. However, I couldn’t have made those journeys without it. It kept my art safe, and made it easier to transport all those sketch books, odd mixed media pieces, and my unstreched “urban� paintings I was doing at the time! After bringing it back to America, It made the journey to Chicago with me, where it spent most its life in the back porch. I had to dig it out from under the cardboard boxes to fit as many stretched and hopefully more sophisticated paintings I was doing at the time in. Just to be put on another plane back here to PHX. Since then, it has been on my studio floor gathering dust and and paint splatters, but still keeping safe my old drawings and sketch books I hoarded for too long that were inside. My portfolio has finally been cleaned out and put to good use again with my new paper pieces for my Etsy shop. Being stored in the spare room, it is getting in the way again, my sister is not so fond of its new home. The End.



y relationship with the Apple iPod began sometime around the year 2005 at a Best Buy in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. After flirting with lesser models of off-brand mp3 players, I decided to invest in an iPod (though the branding/marketing at the time didn’t lead me to buy it as much as the product reviews). I take the iPod with me nearly everywhere. Though it is nice to have whatever music playing whenever I please, the greatest benefit of the product is being able to ignore people and not feel bad about it. When I put in the headphones and go for a walk, I don’t need to pretend that I care about the fliers or literature that people try to hand me. At one point I felt bad about listening to it too often and started to listen to it less often in public places, but I no longer have shame about listening to it whenever I leave my house.



(Background Info: I think it is important to know that I wake up very easily. I actually have to set my alarms to odd times (such as 6:32 instead of 6:30, and it changes each time) because I can get into such a routine that I wake up 3 seconds before the alarm goes off. Before I started setting it to odd times, there were many mornings where I’d be awake and looking at my alarm before it went off.)


nce hit the age where I was old enough to wake myself with an alarm (as opposed to my mother waking me), I knew that I hated alarms. I still hate them. I think at horrible EH-EH-EH buzzing sound is the 100% absolute worst way to start the day. I had my sister’s old hand-me down alarm for about a week before I had (yes, HAD) to get a new one. In hopes of making me less jolted in the mornings, my mother bought me an alarm that made bird noises (we’re talking Junior High age). That alarm died some years later and I had to buy my first alarm. When buying my own for the first time, I had two criteria: my alarm has to make bird noises and the numbers have to glow at all times (as opposed to alarm that you hit to illuminate the numbers. I like being able to look over and know what time it is). My alarm was the only alarm at Target that fit those two requirements, so I bought it. It wasn’t expensive and it isn’t good looking. I didn’t even notice that it is a Timex alarm until I took the photos for this project (despite the fact that I have looked at the product face for over 9 years). I love this alarm because I am incredibly used to it. I can hit the all the buttons


without looking and while being half asleep. It has never failed me. I don’t know how, but anytime the power has gone out, I have been able to sense it and wake up to reset the time before the morning arrives. My alarm was, and is, incredibly important to me. I worked the opening shift at Starbucks for two years, waking at 3:30 am, four days a week. It has also moved with me from my childhood home to San Francisco, back to my childhood home, with me to UC Santa Cruz (where my 3 dorm-mates had to hear it), back to my mother’s house in Simi Valley, then out to Arizona where it has changed living environments 4 times. The only place it didn’t go with me was New York, but that was because I was only there for three months (sidenote: for those three months, I found an alarm that made a delicate beeping noise that I have saved for use as a travel alarm). At this point, the sound quality is horrible. I’m sure it was impressive when I bought it (probably sometime around 1998), but it is laughable now. I’d describe it as odd robotic bird noises. Video here showing the three choices (Brooks, Ocean, Birds): http://www. In Santa Cruz, I shared one big room with three other girls in the dorm. When we would all have to wake at the same time, they knew that I’d set my alarm and get everyone up because I couldn’t tolerate the sound of their horrible EH-EH-EH alarms. I can’t emphasis enough how much I hate being jarred awake. I also lived with someone for two years and we used my alarm. There was actually a conversation before moving in together where we decided that we’d use my alarm because, to put it bluntly, I hated his and

wouldn’t allow it into the house. He didn’t understand how the bird noises were any less stressful than a normal alarm (because I use the Brooks setting where it is the sound of a stream punctuated with “bwahk! bwahk!”), but soon got used to it (read: indifferent). Last, in the event that someone stays over and is woken by the alarm, the normal response is, “What the hell is that?” to which I simply reply, “Birds.” At this point, I am starting to realize that I should buy a new alarm. I’m sure there have been many advances in sound quality and I’d like splurge and get one that makes white noise in addition to bird noises. If I happen to pass by alarms at the store, I’ll do a quick once-over to see if any are advertising bird sounds on the packaging. I have yet to find one easily, so I move along. I tend to keep my electronics until they are 100% dead, so I don’t think I’ll replace this alarm until I absolutely need to. It serves its purpose well, so I will keep it. The end.


ANDREW MACHWART Age: 24 State: Ohio Product: Space Heater Owned: 3+ years


hat it is: Honeywell space heater. Aprox. 6”x8”x13”. Features; Oscilator, shut off timer, energy saver setting, room temp. thermometer with fahrenheit/celsius read out. Saftey features include; Automatic shutoff if device falls over, and a warning sensor on front grill which indicates that device is too hot to touch. Why and how it is used: This is a small space heater I purchased in order to cut down on heating bill costs in the winter. I have used it quite a bit in the three years I’ve had it, and overall I have been fairly satisfied with it. I usually have it placed on the floor, but I will also set it on a table from time to time. What I like most about it is the energy saver setting, but I also like how easy it is to interact with. The control panel is very organized, with a temp control dial and digital thermometer. It is also lightweight, making it easy to carry and store. Another great feature is the built in scoop handle located in the back, allowing for safe transportation of a hot heater that has just been unplugged. One downfall to it’s small size however, is that it can only heat part of a room, and I have to keep it reasonably close by. But if I’m in one spot for an extended about of time, such as in front of the computer or slumped on the couch in front of the television, it definatly puts out enough heat to make things comfortable. If there were anything I would change on it, it would be the size. A larger heater of the same design, putting out more heat, would be better. Yet I still enjoy this product now as much as I did when I first purchased it.



CHRIS MEIERLING Age: 23 State: arizona Product: Yamaha HTR 5590 Receiver How long you’ve owned it: I’ve owned it for about 5 years


AST: Well, I bought this receiver in high school. At the time, audio/visual technology was a passion and I would spend whatever money I had on equipment for my room at home or my car. I had been through many amps and receivers up to that point with mixd experiences and, when I had the opportunity to buy this one, I jumped on it! This was my dream receiver: it has a full digital audio path, and Burr-Brown decoders... awesome stuff. A friend of mine had a friend who was about to quit her job at Best Buy and I seized the opportunity to buy this machine for $500.00 dollars instead of the normal $999.00 price tag. PRESENT: Through all my changes in life over the past 5 years, I have always moved it with me. It was in my dorm room as a Freshman at Ohio State University. It was the successive houses in which I resided for the rest of undergrad. Now it is with me in Arizona and my positive experiences with it are starting to dim. This is for two reasons. The first, which probably has more to do with my life-stage, is it is too big and heavy and I hate the idea of having to drag it around wherever I move next. I don’t use it as often as I did in the past because my computer has speakers and this is how I typically listen to music. Secondly, about 3 years ago the volume started losing its sensitivity to the point that today I can only use the remote control to adjust the volume. While this isn’t very serious, I’m sure this has had an impact on my usage. FUTURE: I’d like to think that I will get it fixed but I just don’t know. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too expensive having priced out similar repairs for other products but the fact is that the volume knob problem sits in that 15

weird area where it doesn’t really impair my use of it but it is still annoying. It just isn’t bad enough yet for me to fix it. I also wonder if I will sell it or keep it. As I mentioned above, it is big and heavy and new technology has made it easier and more convenient for me to listen to music for the way that I live my life. I would like to keep for a home theater or a living room of some sort when I have my own place... but who knows when that will be! After five years of living with this product, I still love it and it represents a special time in my life. While it is clunky, it’s promise lies in how I’ve used it in the past and how I would like to use it in the future, despite its current disabled state.


TATE RAGLAND Age: 27 State: AZ Product: Shoes How long you’ve owned it: ~6 years


orry this isn’t much of a story, but here are the answers to your questions:

How did you acquire it?

Bought them in Houston. What have you used it for?

Just for shoes... mostly wore them to work. Has it travelled or moved with you?

Yes, I’ve moved them with me to London, Chicago, Houston, and to Phoenix. What are positive and negative emotions that you have had related to it?

No negative emotions. I love these shoes. I like that they look old and scruffy. Who else has it affected? Have other people used it?

No one that I know of. No one else has worn them. How has your relationship with it changed over time?

The longer I have them then more I like them. Also, every time I have the soles repaired I get sad cause I know one day I’ll have to get rid of them. I try and only wear them on special occasions so they don’t get messed up as easily. Do you have any anecdotes related to this product?

Not really. When I wear them I sound like a horse trotting... makes me smile.



BRIAN SALAPEK Age: 26 State: PA Product: iPod How long you’ve owned it: 3 years


have had an iPod since December of 2005. My first was an HP and due to it being horrible quality, and the discontinuation of the HP variety, my warranty eventually ran out and I was forced to buy a second. The second, being Apple brand has had much better success. People cringe when they hear about the price of an iPod but I think it is well worth it. I use it every day. It has replaced my home stereo, I use it in the car, at work and at the gym. Even dropping it several times, I have not had a problem that a simple reset hasn’t fixed. 10/10.


note: Brian included a link to this photo, which is hosted by an online store called “Other World Computing� located at: grp_300.jpg


JEFF SCALA Age: 48 State: PA Product: Electric Pencil Sharpener How long you’ve owned it: 30 years


he item I have for you is my old electric pencil sharpener. You know, the beat-up looking olive & cream one. It is a Panasonic, Model NO.KP-8A, Serial NO.B 71339, 110/115 volts, 100 watts, 60 cycles, AC only, and the US Pat. 3134365. The reason I picked this item for you because it is over 30 years old. It started its usefulness in a bowling alley where it sharpened many pencils daily for customers scorecards. After that it came into my possession and has sharpened many of pencils and art pencils for me since 1975. It still works but it is slowing down when in use. I think a new sharper blade would help. It is boxy in appearance, larger than some of the new ones I see out there, but it is very durable. The slide out shavings tray can be messy if not done over a trash can, but not as bad if you empty it before it fills up. The suction cup feet have dried up. cracked and bit the dust, since when have suction cup anything lasted. By the way it was made in Japan when that had the same connotation as made in China, Hong Kong, Mexico, or Taiwan has today. People still had prejudices for Japan due to today’s event on your calender1.



response was sent on Pearl Harbor Day, 2009

note: Jeff did not include a photo, stating: “Greg, sorry no photo for you. No dig cam.�


CODY STONEROCK Age: 21 Years Old State: Ohio Product: Brookstone Digital Atomic Alarm Clock How long you’ve owned it: Owned for around 4 Years


here is no exciting story about the acquisition of it. I have been using it to wake me up for school and/or work for the last few years. It has traveled around surprisingly well with me, I have had it in Columbus, Cincinnati, Steamboat, Telluride, Lexington, and Austin. I am almost positive that all of my feelings toward this device are negative; everything from what it is supposed to do, to the design/interaction, and to my association of the sound. For starters, the way that the package made it sound, was that I would never have to set the clock, it is supposed to do it on its own. This was wrong; everything has to be set manually, even daylight savings time and time zone changes. The shape is strange so putting it into a carefully packed case when traveling is a bit difficult. The shape is supposed to keep it up but it falls over often. Pushing the screen in is the mechanism for turning on the screen light and hitting snooze, this is the only feature I actually like about it. Now for the sound. It is not a bad sound, just a succession of an increasing number of beeps. It is annoying enough to wake me up. I never thought I had a problem with it until I was in a grocery store and heard a woman’s phone beep with the same sound and I got really anxious. I did not realize until then that I really hated waking up and that sound was something I hated hearing in the morning. This was actually in the last year so it took me awhile to realize this. Each day I put lots of trust into this little thing. If I do not wake on time, I miss some education or work time or pay. Even though I do not like it much, I do rely heavily on it


and I trust each day that it will be working or the batteries will not be dead, or that I will hear it, or that I put in AM instead of PM. On really important matters I do not fully trust it, I will set my phone alarm as well. Really important matters tend to be things like the first day of work or school or if I have an important meeting. Even though there is very little I like about this clock, it comes down to the fact that it does its job, it wakes me up every day. Even though I basically hate that feeling every morning, I will keep it until it breaks or I loose it. A more pleasant feeling each morning would be nice but I do not actually think that this would cause me to wake up.


JUSTIN WELLS Age: 24 State: PA Product: Backpack How long you’ve owned it: 10 years


ustin Wells, age 24 and from Pittsburgh! When thinking of my past product relationships, none have been so enduring as my 10 year affair with my backpack. It’s a Five Star XL model knapsack, manufactured by the fine folks at the Mead company. I originally received it freshman year of High School, after begging my mom to purchase a bookbag which would not disintegrate in a rainstorm. Purchased from a Discount Drug Mart in rural Ohio; it’s been with me ever since, traversing over counties and states many times over. It may be the sturdiest thing I possess; it’s only ripped one time in my entire ownership, but was fast fixed using only an amateurs skill in sewing. It even saved my life once in High School; some guy was trying to put me in a headlock and I clobbered him with it. He was disoriented long enough for the principal to show up and give us both detention. However, “Weapon of Ass Destruction” has not been my FiveStar’s primary use, for the past ten years it’s held...  Academic Resources  Vacation Necessities  Party Supplies  Small Animals I’ve Captured




hough the major goal of this study is to better understand the nature of people’s long-term relationships with consume products, a secondary goal of it was to explore the use of a particular method. The method used in this project was to have the participants select a consumer product that they have owned for more than three years and to focus on crafting a story in which they could articulate the depths of their relationship with this object. The story format is useful, as it can cause participants to draw on memories that may not have been sparked through something like a survey, but can be done without much researcher involvement in the collection of the data. Participants were asked to photograph their products in whatever way they wished to add depth to their stories, as well as other information they may not have articulated otherwise. The relationship between the stories and visual relationship will be explored a bit further later. The call for participants was sent out via email and relied on a snowball recruiting effort, in which the participants would send it to friends and colleagues. Some hurdles to participation were definitely evident such as the short time window and necessity of owning a digital camera. In the recruitment email, participants received a link to a web site containing instructions (featured on the opposing page).


This web site served as the “toolkit” to guide them through creating a submission. The toolkit prompted them to first spend some time thinking about the different products they had owned. Secondly they were instructed to take as many photos of it they wished, and were urged to be as creative as they wished to be in visualizing their relationship with this product. The last step was to write a story about their relationship with this product, and provided some prompting questions about the product to get them started. Creating an html submission form would have been the ideal way for the participants to submit their materials, but for the scope of this project was not a feasible task, therefore they were asked to email their photos and stories to my address.

Thanks for taking some time to be in this study! The focus of this research is to explore peoples' long term relationships with consumer products through photos and stories. Your participation shouldn't take too much time and, really, should be pretty interesting. All you need is an internet capable computer, a digital camera, and some time to do this by December 7th.

Step 1 Think about a product you have had for a while (let's say 3 or more years). Make sure it is a consumer product (something that was purchased at some point). Also, try to omit things like cars, motorcycles, washers, dryers, furniture and other 'big ticket items' that typically last a really long time. Step 2 Go find this product and take a picture of it. Feel free to take a few. If you are up for a challenge, get creative and try to take a picture that visualizes your relationship with it or shows the typical context in which it is used. Step 3 Start writing me an email. My address is Make sure to include the following information (feel free to copy/paste!): Name: Age: State: Product: How long you've owned it: Now that you have the product selected and photo(s) of it, I'd like you to write a short story about the history and current state of your relationship with this object. Below are some suggestions of questions to ask yourself when writing (you don't have to answer all of them): How did you acquire it? What have you used it for? Has it travelled or moved with you? What are positive and negative emotions that you have had related to it? Who else has it affected? Have other people used it? How has your relationship with it changed over time? Do you have any anecdotes related to this product? Step 4 Hit that send button and feel great about helping to build some knowledge on the nature of long lasting product relationships. Don't forget to attach your image file(s) to the email!

Feel free to let me know if you have any problems. If you are interested in the results of these project, feel free to let me know in your response. Thank you, again, for you help.




initially expected emotional attachment would be a huge component of these stories. This was accurate in some cases, but on the whole participants expressed a feeling of contentment and of being “used to” their products. The products chosen tended to be kept for their usefulness, more so than their emotional attachment. Of the emotional attachments documented, there were two major categories: Novelty / Uniqueness was represented by stories mentioning unique sounds their different products made. Representation of a Past Life was documented in stories about products obtained during a certain phase or “golden year”. Both of these categories deal with some amount of self identity being embedded in the objects.



everal different patterns of use were found, which shows that there isn’t a single answer to the age long question of ‘How can we create durable products?’ Constant Use was exhibited by quite a few stories. The products tended to be ones that were relied on daily, such as alarm clocks, backpacks, and electronics Changing Patterns of Use were found in products that linked to other types of unique life activities, particularly creative activities such as music or art. Life is a cyclical activity, and therefore products that exist within someone’s life for a long time may also exhibit this activity. Decreasing Use emerged from stories involving products that have begun to deteriorate. The cause of decreased use can be technological obsolescence, broken parts, or an attempt to make a product last longer.




ost products in the stories had travelled with the owner at some point in their lives.

Many participants spoke of their product moving with them to different apartments, cities, states, and even countries. Other products were carried with or worn by people throughout their daily routines. Both of these themes illustrate that a property of flexibility is a trait of many durable products. The products that were written about were able to exist in different contexts and deemed worth holding on to when moving from place to place.



he acquisition of the products was mentioned in most stories. The nature of the acquisition varied from product to product, though there are three notable properties: Investment was expected to be very common, but only a few items had large investment values. In both cases the actual amount was paid and justified in the story, showing that it still plays a role in the relationship.



unctions were explicitly discussed in most stories. The service that the product renders to the owner and how well it does it seemed to be a benchmark for the storytellers. Successful Task Completion was a common theme. Several participants mentioned keeping things until they absolutely would not work and one even went to the length to say that even though he hated it he would “keep it until it breaks or I loose (sic) it.” Adapting To and Dealing With Flaws was also a theme drawn from several stories. The flaws mentioned were always minor and typically had a workaround, or a ‘trick, to get the product to work correctly. This shows a willingness to deal with a product’s flaws if you enjoy it or find it useful enough. Versatility, which is also touched on briefly in the travel theme, was shown by quite a few of the products. The products’ abilities to function in various contexts or do different types of functions for the owner appears to be an important factor in the decision to keep a product for long periods of time.

Inexpensive Products were surprisingly common including shoes, backpacks, pencil sharpeners, and alarm clocks. These products tended to do their job well and show no need for replacement, regardless of cost. Replacement of a previous product was mentioned several times. This alludes to the idea that participants finally found something that worked, and were weary of trying something new. 30



7.8 Time Alarm 5 Average Age of Products:

Most Commonly Used Word:

Median Age of Products:

Most Common Products:

Shoes &

AGE OF participants

26.7 25 Average Age of Participants:

Median Age of Participants:


ANOMALIES / SURPRISES heather’s higher meaning

Brian’s stock photo



lmost all of the products featured in these stories were fairly trivial. Emotional attachments ran from none at all to having some mild connection to past events. All of the stories except for Heather’s. Heather described her Adidas as having a much “higher meaning” than their original purpose. Their place in such a large part of her life means that they are embedded with these memories. If these shoes were thrown away, ruined, or destroyed it would destroy a part of her memory of this special time in her life. This illustrates the power objects have, beyond function, to hold meaning for people.

hen I received Brian’s submission I realized he hadn’t attached a photo. I was about to email him back about it, but upon reading his entry I noticed a link to a stock image of an iPod. Not his iPod. I was prepared to email him about it, but then realized that this surely meant something. Does this mean that Brian feels that his iPod is exactly like every other iPod? His response was purely about function benefits. Despite the discourse of how an iPod impacts self identity, it seems that it hasn’t made a big enough individual impact on Brian that he would want to show me his iPod, rather than any generic iPod.



jeff’s non-existent photo

Much of the technology was only around 3 years old, but it paints an optimistic picture about the possibility of creating durable technological products.

What does this mean about people’s prioritization of written word over visual imagery? Is it just easier for participants to manage and control text?

echnology was expected to be mostly absent from this study, but technology was represented fairly well, with 8 of 13 products requiring some sort of power to operate.

Jeff decided that, despite the instructions, he would send me a response without a photo, because does not own a digital camera.



eing a fashion item, I found it curious that there were two pairs of shoes in this group. Upon further examination, though, it makes sense. Shoes are not always worn constantly, whereas some other products and fashion items are used so regularly that wear and tear takes its tole. Again, optimistic views of how products can last.



hese stories show just a small glimpse into the world of durable product relationships, but still point in several definitive directions for future study. The direct and obvious route is to explore these same themes through in depth interviews. One product, such as here, or several products could be explored by the researcher and participant. The themes drawn out from these stories could each be explored further into how they impact a person’s decision to keep a product. These types of topics are typically very qualitative by nature, but a quantitative study of the different types of products people keep for long periods of time could provide a firm basis for future studies. These stories are all of successfully durable products. What about those they don’t last long at all? What can be learned from them? Similarly, what can be learned from Pack Rats? This was just a small glimpse into this world that needs to be discovered in great depth if we are to create products that hold meaning for people and have less impact on our planet. Thanks to all the participants in this project.



Exploring Durable Relationships  

A participatory photo project exploring peoples' long term relationships with products