When people talk about a product being friendly they mostly comment on its relationship with the environment or with the user (environmentally friendly / user friendly) but a friendly product doesn’t necessarily has to share these characteristics. We can talk about friendly products from the perspective that form and usability creates a more personal and amiable relationship with the user than products with a different focus.
In order to craft that relationship between user and product it’s important for the object to be easily recognizable, it has to stand out. To put it in other words, it should be full of character. A minimalist product that aims to lose itself in its environment would hardly be considered friendly.
Obviously it’s not enough to be just different, how to differentiate the product matters too. The design should be more amicable, more pleasant than what people expect from that type of products. The Lamborghini Veneno stands out a lot, it’s full of character but it certainly doesn’t have a friendly aesthetic behind it. It probably is very friendly in its handling and comfort but it’s very aggressive in its aesthetics and that’s the message it want to give.
After some research I was able to discern that a friendly object possess several defining features, and while those aren’t exclusionary or exclusive to this typology they serve as tools to build the idea of friendliness.
It’s not enough for a product to be friendly from the way it’s used, it also has to communicate its friendliness. If it fails to do so there is a chance that the product can become friendly in the eyes of its owner after a long time of exposure and satisfactory use. In that case the product can only be considered friendly by the person that formed a relationship with the product.
On the other hand a product can have a friendly function without the object itself being considered friendly.
And if we take a product that communicates friendliness but then this is not backed up by actual friendly usability we’ll be in the presence of a dishonest product.
An important characteristic of a friendly object is that it has to create a relationship with the user.
There are certain products that because of the way it’s used or because of the frequency or length of interaction with the user makes them difficult to craft them to make them friendly.
A product that is transformed with use can be tailored to create a positive relationship with the user. In that same vein, products that age with grace and personality, where wear and tear add to the object identity encourage attachment and are more prone to be used for longer periods of time. Natural materials like wood usually share this peculiarity.
The way a product is acquired also has an influence on how it’s perceived. We can talk about products as experience, where the design of the product involves all the stages where it interacts with the user, from the point of purchase and unpackaging up to disposal.
Amongst other ways to approach friendliness we could find using cultural symbols, natural or historical forms. Another way is to make the product something that several users interact with or even it could require cooperation between people to use. Sharing is an integral part of the idea of friendliness so it’s equally important for a product, even showing the product, lending it or other social interactions can improve the product perception as friendly. A designer should be careful though as not to end up with an object people use to flaunt. Ostentatious objects are alienating and have negative connotations in this context.
We could say that a friendly object can maintain a personal and pleasant dialogue with the user. There’s narrative to the friendly object.
I arranged this research in the shape of a tree, with the branches grouping types of characteristics.
It’s possible to see that a friendly object can be designed with different approaches and not only from the aesthetics. It’s important to note that usability is what establishes a product as friendly and how it influences other aspects of the design.
To sum up I would say that a friendly object is a product that generate a bond with the user and it’s a product in which the user identifies social, functional or emotional values that resonate with him or her.