Deciding whether we like a product or not often takes little more than an instant. We look at it and think “Hey, this is nice…” or “Whoa that is horribly ugly!”. We might grab it and comment that it feels cheap, or balanced, durable or maybe clunky. A quick glance at the price-tag and within minutes we’ve decided whether we want this product or not.

What happens in our brains is actually a complex series of judgements and associations based on past experience and personal preferences. In that cloud of personal experience and preference, we answer 3 questions:

1. Will this product do what it should, is it durable and comfortable to use?

2. Does this product fit my attitude, is it cute, tough, modest or expressive enough for me?

3. Does this product fit my style, will my friends or family appreciate it, does it fit my station in life?

With our rising awareness of the social and environmental impact of business and industry, a 4th question has risen:

4. Do I agree with this product’s social and environmental impact, do I agree with why it exists?

These four questions cover the four dimensions of product design. They are the Utilitarian Function, Emotional Attitude, the Cultural Style and the Social Purpose of a product.

Image: The 4 dimensions of product design

Image: The 4 dimensions of product design

When all these dimensions overlap with the preferences of your customers, you’re in the Sweet Spot. Customers will not only appreciate how your products work and how they look. They will empathize with the purpose you are pursuing, making them more loyal customers and vocal promotors of your brand.

Designing for the 4th dimension means understanding how to implement elements into products that trigger meaningful purpose-related associations relevant to the intended user.