We, as humans, are largely distinguished from other beings by our individual consciousness. It grants us the ability to understand our decisions and even use them to shape our future lives. The reasons behind our choices are often primal in source: the necessity of food, shelter, etcetera. However, the awareness of what we need makes us desire these things long before we ever seek them instinctually (not to be confused with habitually). Be it electricity or sustenance or money—even the most ‘basic’ amenities are acquired, if possible, by choice. The things that we need only appear to be requisites because of the strength in which we desire them.

Some choices become effortless—essentially made for us by internal demands or cultural standards (if fortunate enough to have the option)—to live, eat, read. The decisions we more actively make effect how we live, consume, and enlighten ourselves. They are made to serve our individual desires, and sometimes lead us to redefine them.
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While much of what we wish for may be in the form of non-material aspirations, they themselves often require things. Things ‘require’ other things, and tangible acquisitions are a daily routine, a routine that we choose to participate in and often enjoy. We sometimes want items for a distinct purpose, whereas at other times our reasons are manifold or even unidentifiable. We often compare our various desires in order to reveal their varying degrees. Ultimately, though, the true measurement of each desire is whether we wish to actively pursue it or not. Whatever purpose(s) our things eventually serve, let’s now look at the qualities that guide and feed our desire to have them, or: why we want things.

How it works. Often the first attraction to an object comes from its ability to do something for us. Because we wish for a given result, we need things to achieve it. We need electricity, because we need light, because we need to read, because we need to educate ourselves, because we need to make money, because we need to pay for electricity. The production of a tangible result is frequently the most important factor when deciding to acquire some object. It is also the effectiveness and efficiency of this result that aides our choices: we evaluate each thing we desire both by what it does and how it is done.

While many people equate an object’s direct physical effects with its Purpose, other qualities can also be functional, albeit less tangibly. These can be just as important in deciding amongst options and are often more desirable than the productive elements of the object…
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How it looks. Beauty is a universal attraction that is individually defined. It can be inspirational, mesmerizing, overwhelming or subtle, temporary or eternal. Many objects are solely appreciated for their beauty, their aesthetic appeal—regardless of this being their intended purpose or not. A piece of art may be the most obvious instance of such an object, but is not the only case. Consider the effects of time and environment on our perceptions of what was once considered ‘utilitarian.’ While the intended use may be antiquated, its aesthetic value remains—perhaps increased by shifts in popular taste.

Although we each define Beauty uniquely, common cultural experiences funnel many of our interpretations into a collective concept of what is beautiful. It is through these shared definitions that an object can attempt to attract not just individuals, but entire audiences.

Beauty also exists to supplement other functions or as a coincidental inclusion. However it arrives, beauty is a perceived quality that repeatedly has a great affect on what it is that we desire, often being the deciding factor when choosing between otherwise alike items. As our visual senses may invoke a personal attraction, other means of sensual and emotive stimulation can too encourage desire…
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How it feels. Things change the environment in which they are placed—not just physically, but also how people feel around them. The prospect for sensual and entertainment value can make an object highly desirable. Although this quality may not be apparent before it is revealed through interaction, its eventual exposure serves to perpetuate and spread desire of the object’s effects—instead of desire for the object itself. This is the nature of our need for things: we desire their results, regarding the object for the fulfillment of these qualities that we desire…

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How it Does. That a physical object can indirectly affect its surroundings, aside from its intended primary use, leads us to consider more abstract functions when determining what we desire. The social impact of an object can elevate its influence to a population beyond those aware of the thing’s existence. Meanwhile, any consequence on nature also affects those beings that are not conscious of our stamp on this planet at all. Our selfish nature makes it difficult to pinpoint the reasons we wish to Do Good unto others—but just that we do suffices, and to target these desires accentuates their potential. However, even an object that guarantees to Do Good cannot alone create desirability if this fact is not known or believed. Only the personal perception of a positive quality is needed to generate some desire—not results.

How it rates. In choosing between similar things, our desires may result from a ranking of qualities, rather than the qualities themselves. Instead of being attracted to the potential effect of an object, it may be rated on its value claimed by others. Competitive analysis of objects may lead to a desire for the Best or Most or appropriately ranked…simply for the sake of that title, independent from what that title represents. Cost, authenticity, and rarity are all comparative factors that have almost no effect on the object’s performance, but solely on its perceived value. These most notably influence desire while an object is being researched, but always remain functional qualities by affecting perceptions of worth.
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The above ideas relate the nature of our desires and categorize their qualities in an interpretive framework. Through an understanding of this, or some similar structure, designers can target what people want—just as consumers can become more aware of what they specifically wish for. Thereafter, the ultimate measure of desire becomes the actual demand for an item; that people want it enough to pursue it for any, or any combination, of these five reasons.

As we further identify and assert our wishes, the apparent necessities of life and the standards of living evolve. It is the aim of what we surround ourselves with to respond to our whimsical wishes—and steadfast requirements. Meanwhile it is a task for designers to ensure that these objects both address our desires and provoke new ones.

Reprinted with permission of the excellent Core77.
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