Usability with Sean May: The Four Pleasures

By November 3, 2016Blog, Uncategorized

Understanding why a person likes something is an incredibly complicated task. If it weren’t, there’s a good chance usability as a practice would be completely non-existent. But, alas, people are fickle and their desire for a product or service vary hugely. It’s obvious to anyone that different people like different things for different reasons, but how can a usability expert corral those desires into categories that can be tested, examined, and, let’s be honest, maybe even exploited.

One of the ways to do this is by looking at the Four Pleasures. Now I understand this sounds like an obscure R&B group from the 70’s or a hotel you’d probably want to think twice about before booking a room, but it’s actually a framework developed by psychologist Patrick Jordan in 2000. The goal of the Four Pleasures is to identify the four primary ways a person is satisfied with a product or service, or anything at all really. The Pleasures identified by Jordan are:

Physical Pleasures (originally called Physio-pleasure)

Physical pleasures are perhaps the most obvious of the Four Pleasures. They deal with anything that is pleasurable to the senses. This could be the aroma of freshly baked bread, the feel of a pair of shoes that fit just perfectly, or even the music selections at your favorite coffee shop. In usability terms, things that satisfy physical pleasures feel good to use and work with in some way.

Physical pleasures can have a huge effect on a user’s perception of a product. One example of this is that some people tend to equate the weight of a product as a measure of its quality (even to the point where companies like Beats Headphones will add non-structural metal to their products to add weight). Things that feel light and flimsy are often seen as cheap and undesirable, even if this isn’t necessarily true.

Social Pleasures (originally called Socio-pleasures)

Social pleasures come from any kind of social or interpersonal interactions people have in relation to a product or service. Of course, social fulfillment can occur without the need of any intervening product or technology, but it’s obvious through the rise of social media and products designed to connect people to each other, technology is taking a much larger role in helping people satisfy social needs than it ever has.

The obvious ways to provide social pleasure to a user with a product is through the ability to interact with other users of this product. The way Facebook lets you chat with friends living thousands of miles away, the way the Playstation Network allows you to hear what all the world’s 14-year-olds are going to do to your mother, or the way social media hashtags allow you to interact with people in the same place as you are great examples of how products can fulfill social pleasures, but social pleasures also include products that let you become more well-integrated into society. Thus, things like television, newspapers, and even medical devices,can provide social pleasures to users.

Psychological Pleasures (originally called Psycho-pleasures)

Psychological pleasures are things that give the user some kind of positive mental fulfillment. A lot of physical pleasures provide psychological pleasures, but psychological pleasures can also be entirely standalone, such as the way a good book can sweep you away to a new world, or the way playing a video game can make you feel powerful. Psychological pleasures can be a little more difficult to fulfill than social or physical pleasures, since every person is psychologically different, but in general, making a person feel smart and competent while using a product is a good sign that it fulfills psychological pleasure.

Another aspect of psychological pleasure that is applicable in usability is making products that do not cause stress or anxiety, things that are the exact opposite of psychological pleasure. If a product makes a person feel stressed or is so not intuitive that the user feels stupid while using it, not only will the product not be providing psychological pleasure, it is causing a detriment to the user’s overall pleasure with the product, even if it has good physical, social, or ideological aspects.

Ideological Pleasures (originally called Ideo-pleasures)

Ideological pleasures are perhaps the most abstract and broad of the Four Pleasures, but can still have a major effect on a user’s perception of something. Ideological pleasures are things that allow people to either express their personal ideologies or that cater to those ideologies. Ideologies are usually big things, like political alignments, religions affiliations, or deep-rooted causes like environmentalism or animal rights.

Of course, not every product is going to fulfill a person’s ideological pleasure. Most people don’t think about which toothbrush expresses their ardent support of Socialism, but products that directly target a person’s ideologies can be highly successful. For example, marketing a reusable water bottle as a way to prevent plastic bottles from ending up in landfills can give a person who considers themselves an environmentalist a sense of ideological fulfillment.

As it should be clear, there’s a lot of crossover between the Four Pleasures, and all four of them exist in ways that fulfilling one or two really well can cause people to not put as much emphasis on the fulfillment of the other pleasures (think of all the people who buy products from companies because of their quality, despite the fact that the company making them may have practices that don’t exactly align with the purchaser’s ideology), but, ideally, a product or service should do all it can to provide all four of these pleasures to a user in some way.