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Shoes, Cars, and Other Love Stories: Investigating The Experience of Love for Products


Abstract and Figures

People often say they love a product. What do they really mean when they say this, and is this a phenomenon that is relevant to the field of design? Findings from a preliminary study in this thesis indicated that people describe their love as a rewarding, long-term, and dynamic experience that arises from a meaningful relationship built with products they own and use. Inspired by existing approaches to the experience of love from social psychology, research tools are developed for the closer study of person-product love. Using those tools the research in this thesis investigates how person-product interactions are linked to the experience of love and how these influence love over time. The findings reveal how the experience of love arises from person-product relationships, how love relationships develop over time, and which factors can provoke change in the love experience and love relationships over time. These findings present opportunities for design researchers and designers to foster rewarding experiences and long-lasting person-product relationships. Person-product love relationships can bring emotional rewards that benefit people’s wellbeing and stimulate sustained efforts to keep loved products for longer.
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Investigating the experience of love for products
This research was partly supported by:
@ Beatriz Russo 2010
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Investigating the experience of love for products
ter verkrijging van de graad van doctor
aan de Technische Universiteit Delft,
op gezag van de Rector Magnificus prof. ir. K. C. A. M. Luyben,
voorzitter van het College voor Promoties,
in het openbaar te verdedingen op donderdag 9 December 2010 om 15:30 uur
Mestre em Design
Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
geboren te Rio de Janeiro, Brazilië
Dit proefschrift is goedgekeurd door de promotor:
Prof. Dr. P. P. M. Hekkert
Dr. Dipl. Des. S. U. Boess
Samenstelling promotiecommissie:
Rector Magnificus
Prof. Dr. P. P. M. Hekkert
Technische Universiteit Delft, promotor
Dr. Dipl. Des. S. U. Boess
Technische Universiteit Delft, copromotor
Prof. Dr. D. A. Norman
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and
Prof. Dr. M. Woolley
Coventry University
Prof. Dr. Ir. J. Dul
Erasmus University
Prof. Dr. J. C. Brezet
Technische Universiteit Delft
Dr. C. S. Porter
Loughborough University
Prof. Ir. M. B. van Dijk
Technische Universiteit Delft, reservelid
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is
not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices
with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Chapter 1: The experience of love for products 15
1.1 Descriptions of love 15
1.2 Preliminary study 17
1.2.1 Insights 18
1.2.2 Why investigate the experience of love for products? A
research perspective 22
1.3 This thesis 23
Chapter 2: Examining how to investigate the experience of love
for products 27
2.1 Product experience 27
2.1.1 Investigating product experiences 28
2.1.2 The appraisal approach 28
2.2 Investigating interpersonal love theories 30
2.2.1 Selection criteria 31
2.3 Tracing person-product love using interpersonal love theories 33
2.3.1 The Triangular Theory of Love 33
2.3.2 Relationship development & change 39
2.4 What have we learned and how to investigate the experience
of love for products? 45
Chapter 3: The person-product Love Scale 51
3.1 Introduction 51
3.2 Identifying rewarding experiences with loved products 53
3.2.1 Phase 1 Mapping person-product love stories 53
3.2.2 Phase 2 Checking subscales items 55
3.2.3 Phase 3 Testing the Love Scale 57
3.2.4 Phase 4 Subscales validation 59
3.2.5 Phase 5 Scale revision 62
3.3. Discussion 64
Note: 66
CHAPTER 4: The Experience Interaction Tool 69
4.1 Introduction 69
4.2 Assessing person-product relationship events 70
4.2.1 Phase 1: Structuring stories of relationship events 73
4.2.2 Phase 2: Collecting relevant action verbs 75
4.2.3 Phase 3: Manageable set of action verbs 77
4.2.4 Phase 4: Trialling the tool 82
4.3 Discussion 93
CHAPTER 5: Investigating the experience of love for products 97
5.1 Method 99
5.2 The study setup 100
5.2.1 Study 1: Women and shoes 100
5.2.2 Study 2: People and cars 100
5.2.3 Participant selection 101
5.2.4 Data collection 101
5.3 Question 1: How interactions and the experience of love are
connected in person-product relationships 102
5.3.1 Data analysis 103
5.3.2 Results from the small sample: connections between
interactions and the experience of love 103
5.3.3 Discussion of question 1 106
5.3.4 Findings on question 1 (from all the data) 108
5.3.5 Discussion of question 1 112
5.4 Question 2: how do the connecting aspects in an interaction
influence a change in the experience of love? 114
5.4.1 Data analysis on question 2 115
5.4.2 Findings on question 2 117
5.4.3 Discussion of question 2 118
5.5 Question 3: How do the connecting aspects in an interaction
influence change in the experience of love and the
development of the relationship over time? 119
5.5.1 Data analysis on question 3 120
5.5.2 Findings 121
5.5.3 Discussion of question 3 134
5.6 General discussion 134
5.6.1 Discussion of the approach 134
5.6.2 Discussion of the findings 135
CHAPTER 6: General Discussion 139
6.1 The experience of love for products 139
6.1.1 Investigating love in the field of design 140
6.1.2 How are interactions and love connected? 141
6.1.3 How do these interactions influence love over time? 142
6.2 Implications for design research and strategies: can we
design for love? 142
6.2.1 Can designers foster rewards of love and longevity in
person-product love relationships? A workshop 148
6.3 Implications for love research 152
6.3 Limitations and future research 154
In 2003 I carried out a study in which I examined the influence of
affective experiences on the perceived usability of consumer products. I
noticed that some products, while effective, efficient and (somewhat)
satisfying, were not preferred by users. Rather, they preferred to use
products with which they resonated emotionally. Usability, -the extent
to which a product can be used by specific users to achieve specified
goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction” (ISO 9241-11, 1996)
for long has been seen as a critical factor for user acceptance.
However, by the time of my study, researchers had begun to recognize
that effectiveness and efficiency might not be the only qualities products
should have in order to promote user satisfaction: the ability of
products to satisfy people’s affective needs also seemed to improve
product acceptance and people’s well-being (for example, Picard, 1997;
Jordan, 1999; Hassenzahl, Platz, Burmester, & Lehner, 2000; Tractinsky,
Katz, & Ikar, 2000; Helander & Tham, 2003).
Did these findings also apply to my research? I was investigating
differences between the users’ judgment of products they owned and
resonated with emotionally and the users’ judgment of highly usable
products that served the same purpose (function). I carried out usability
tests in which participants tested both products and collected many
experience narratives. All products participants claimed to resonate with
emotionally did badly in the usability tests. Still, participants
using those products instead of the highly usable ones (Russo, 2004).
For example, in a particular post-test interview, while commenting on the
fact that her fingers were bleeding from using her nail clipper (figure 1),
just a moment ago, a participant said:
“It doesn’t really matter if once in a while I happen to cut my finger with it. I
really love this nail clipper (…) and nobody will convince me to ditch it
and use another one. In fact, I have another one and I have had it for a
long time. But since I got this one I always use it”.
The findings indicated that good usability alone was not a critical
factor to user acceptance, but
seemed to be. During the study,
many participants said they experienced
for the products they own,
use, and resonate with. When experienced towards a product, love
seemed to have the power to lessen the importance of effectiveness
and efficiency during product use as well as convey higher levels of
Figure 0.1 The beloved nail clipper ‘Canaglia’, from Alessi.
Design: Stefano Giovannoni.
Considering that nowadays we have access to products that are very
similar in terms of price, quality, and technical characteristics, products
with an affective appeal have competitive advantage when people make
purchase decisions (Desmet, 2002). Moreover, affective experiences can
satisfy our emotional needs, strongly influence our wellbeing, and
improve our quality of life (Desmet, 2002; Hassenzahl, 2008; Demir
2008; McDonagh & Lebbon, 2000). Researchers have also been raising
awareness about the role of affective experiences in the environmental
impact of products (Woolley, 2003; Van Hinte, 2004): products are
quickly discarded because they provide a limited scope for affective
experiences or provide experiences that are short-lived (Dunne & Raby,
2001). Enabling people to have more intensive and varied experiences
with products could make them keep the products for longer and
engage in long-term relationships with them (Chapman, 2005; Dunne and
Raby, 2001; Wooley, 2003).
For these reasons, it became essential that product developers
are prepared to deal with the affective experiences people have with
products (Denton, McDonagh, Baker & Wormald, 2004; McDonagh and
Lebbon, 2000). Design researchers are seeking to integrate into the
design domain knowledge of what experiences are, what they entail, and
to provide guidance for those who wish to design
experiences or
at least facilitate their occurrence (Forlizzi & Ford, 2000).
Although people often express love for a product, not much is known at
present about the experience of love in the person-product context and
its role in people’s satisfaction with product use. It might be worth
studying in order to provide product developers with opportunities to
support people’s wellbeing. What is the experience of love for products?
What is the role of product use in the experience of love? Can we
create products people would love? Motivated to investigate this
phenomenon I started my doctoral studies at Delft University of
Technology. At the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, design
researchers were joining efforts to investigate specific affective
experiences people have with products and to gather knowledge to
facilitate the occurrence of these experiences. Despite their appealing
creating successful products people love to use
they also
seemed to be in need of an understanding of love for products and
provided me with an opportunity to study it. This thesis is the result.
Chapter 1:
The experience of love for products
In the prologue we proposed that investigating people’s experience of
love for products they own and use could provide insights into how this
experience supports wellbeing. With these insights, eventually, guidance
for product developers could be developed on how the experience of
love can be fostered through design. First, we look into how love has
been described. Then, we investigate what it means to people to love a
product they use and gather insights that help us describe what is the
experience of love for products in the context of use.
1.1 Descriptions of love
From Plato to contemporary researchers in various domains of the
humanities and social sciences, many have tackled the need to
understand what is widely considered to be the most powerful and
meaningful of all human emotions (Sternberg, 1988; Berscheid & Peplau,
1983). Love is a phenomenon present in all human cultures (Levinger,
1988). Because it has many forms and guises (Pope, 1980), researchers
and theorists have described it through many perspectives. Love has
been described in light of the affective phenomena it portrays as, for
example, an attitude (Rubin, 1973, Fromm, 1957) or an emotion (Casler,
1974; Ortony, Clore, and Collins, 1988). It has also been described in
terms of the behaviours people engage with when experiencing it (Buss,
1988; Levinger, 2002; Sternberg, 1988); in terms of the values and
Chapter based on Russo & Hekkert (2007), Russo (2009), and Russo, Boess,
and Hekkert (2011).
moral issues it involves (Badhwar, 2003; Brown, 1987; Velleman, 1999),
and in terms of its sexual outcomes (Freud, 1952). It has been
described as, for example, a source of motivation (Aron & Aron, 1996),
as stories (Sternberg, 1998; Reik, 1943), and as a bond of commitment
or attachment (Bowlby, 1999; Shaver, Hazan, and Bradshaw, 1988). Most
often, love is examined in the interpersonal context, whether between
peers, parent and child, siblings, or friends. However, can love for
products be said to exist as well? How has love for products been
Brown (1987) and Chapman (2005) suggested that people think that,
when expressed towards products, love gains a metaphorical aura, as if
it could only be experienced towards people. Brown (1987) was probably
the first to include love for products in the philosophical literature on
love. He believed that much of what we experience as ‘love may be
truthfully extended to all possible objects since there is nothing in
particular that we have to believe about the object of our love in order
to make it a possible recipient (p.15). However, he also believes that
people may use the word
towards products simply to stress their
liking for it, or because some languages such as French have a single
word that corresponds to the words
. In the psychological
literature on love, Berscheid (2006) cautions that when expressions of
refer to a product these do not necessarily have the same (or
similar) connotation as when they refer to a person: “people generally
know what love means because they construe its meaning from
knowledge of precisely who, in what situation, in what culture, is using
the word to describe his or her attitudes, emotions, feelings, and
behaviours about a person or a thing” (p. 173). In design research
Chapman (2005) considers that love is something we
towards products: “love abounds in both the made and unmade world
(p. 68). However, he believes that, unlike interpersonal love, love for
products is incapable of mutual evolution and growth as it lacks
reciprocity. According to these authors, love for products is not
exclusively metaphorical and can be said to exist. However, they caution
that the word love may mean various things when employed towards
products, and that it may differ in character from interpersonal love.
Researchers of various areas have described love for products in
association with a number of phenomena. For example, Desmet (2002)
investigated emotions people experience when assessing the appearance
of consumer products and found that at an early stage of
consumption love was indistinguishable from desire as an experience.
Expressions of love towards products have been interpreted as
attachment (Mugge, 2007; Chapman, 2005), preference (Berscheid, 2006),
or a more intense form of liking (Brown, 1987). Love for products was
claimed to be an expression of self-love (Taylor, 1982), an extension of
the self (Ahuvia, 1993; 2005), and a form of brand loyalty (Whang, Allen,
Sahoury, & Zhang, 2004, Caroll & Ahuvia, 2006). It seems that, like
interpersonal love, love for products can also be observed through many
perspectives. However, none of the perspectives presented above
specifically reflect people’s experience of products they use, interact or
engage with. What does it mean to people to love a product this way?
1.2 Preliminary study
In order to understand what it means to people to love a product they
use, we turned to their own words; how they talk about a product they
love. This could help us decide whether love for products can be said
to exist. It could also provide first pointers towards a suitable approach
to researching person-product love if it was a phenomenon worth
studying. We set up an exploratory preliminary study in which we invited
people to discuss a particular consumer product they own, use, and
love. We chose to focus our investigation on loved
consumer products
that people own and use because this might generate insights of value
to product design.
The participants of the preliminary study were 24 (11 male, 13
female; 22-28 years old) international master students of the faculty of
Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology, the
Netherlands. Lacking an
a priori
objective measure of love, we assumed
that when a person responds to our invitation to discuss a particular
loved product they do experience love for the product. Each participant
was met individually and asked to present from 1 to 3 consumer
products they own, use, and love, and to share their personal
experiences with these products.
Each interview session (one session for each product) lasted
between 35 and 50 minutes. Fifty-three love stories (unstructured self-
reports) about people’s experiences with products they love were
collected. Loved products were a broad range of consumer products:
from shoes to laptops, from mobile phones to hairbrushes (see figure
1.1). We conducted an initial analysis of the participants’ stories. We
grouped the participants’ statements into phenomena that seemed
relevant to affective experiences, such as duration and strength of affect
(Silverman, 2000). As we examined the stories, new phenomena were
found to be relevant and were also described.
1.2.1 Insights
The collected person-product love stories helped us understand what
people mean when they say they love a product they own and use.
First, descriptions of love portrayed a
meaningful relationship
people and a product specimen.
“I always remember the first time I saw these sunglasses. I was in this shop
in NY looking for glasses and I always had problems finding ones that fit
well and that look good. I saw these, put them on and I felt like they were
made for me (…) so I bought them (…) I felt like I had to have them (…) I
never had something like this with anything else. Just with these glasses”.
Second, throughout the stories, participants frequently pictured their
relationship with loved products as
very rewarding.
“I can do everything with this [photo] camera. I know every little piece of it,
every little detail (…) I love it so much (…) I’m so glad to have it”.
“Really, I can’t imagine having another mobile phone. It is old, but it does so
much for me”.
Figure 1.1 A selection of products participants said they love.
From left to right: laptop, sunglasses, pen, MP3 Player, mobile
phone, external HD, running shoes, hairbrush, tennis racket, wallet,
bike lights, lamp, turntable, car, headphones, photo camera,
notebook, hammock, meat grinder, and nail clipper.
Third, love was portrayed as an
experience. Participants
described their love as spanning over time.
“I actually bought this pen a long time ago, like 4 years ago. I saw it and
didn’t even think much. I just bought it. It was, let’s say, love at first sight
(…) I still use it, of course. It doesn’t look as pretty as it used to, but I love
it, what can I do?
Fourth, since it is enduring, love is more than
an experience
: it is a
container of experiences
. People often describe having momentary
affective experiences, both positive and negative, while also having an
overall experience of love for a product.
“I remember how I felt when I saw the photo camera the first time. It was so
shiny. I really wanted to have it (…) I used to play with it in the beginning, it
was kind of fun. Mostly because I wanted to get to know it, its functions and
all (…) one day I found a scratch on it and I got so mad. I thought it would
never be the same again. But then, as I got used to it, the scratch became
part of the camera (…) I really love it. It is a very good camera, but I think
that we’ve been through so much that it is impossible not to love it”.
“I was really happy to know it [backpack] was then mine (…) I’m still happy
about it”.
Lastly, people often describe the experience of love for products as
changing over time
“I bought these running shoes because I wanted to run. And I did use them
the whole summer. I was running around the city almost every day and I
loved wearing these shoes (…) but when winter came I went back to the gym
and I realized these shoes were not made for the gym. My feet hurt after a
while and I was very disappointed. I thought I could use them everywhere,
but no (…) I decided that I would not wear them at the gym, but I would try
to run outside when there was no snow and it is not too cold (…) my love
for them definitely went a bit down, but it goes right up when I am able to
wear and enjoy them”.
In sum, our participants described love as a rewarding, long-term, and
dynamic experience that contains other affective experiences and arises
from meaningful relationships with special products they own and use.
Given that love has been described in many ways, has love even been
described like this?
All the characteristics of the experience of love for products described
by our participants have been pointed out by interpersonal love
researchers mostly social psychologists as characteristics of inter-
personal partnering love. Partnering love is a kind of love experienced
a significant other
, such as a lover or spouse. Interpersonal
partnering love has also been pictured as a rewarding experience (for
example, Sternberg, 1986/2006; Murstein, 1988); a long-term experience
that changes over time (for example, Kelley, 2002; Levinger, 2002, Pope,
1980; Sternberg, 2006); and as a meaningful experience that is best
described as a relationship (for example, Pope, 1980; Sternberg,
1988/2006; Kelley, 2002; Van Krogten, 1992; Maxwell, 1985; Reik, 1944).
Moreover, interpersonal love researchers have also posed that love is
not a single emotion but many (for example, Maxwell, 1995; Murstein,
1988; Pope, 1980). Researchers have also described how other affective
experiences play a role in the experience of love: for example, desire
(for example, Beal & Sternberg, 1995), disappointment (for example,
Levinger, 2002), contentment (for example, Berscheid, 2002), happiness
(for example, Brickman & Campbell, 1971), liking (for example, Sternberg,
1988; Berscheid, 2002), grief (for example, Berscheid, 2002; Levinger,
2002), and so on. In short, researchers of interpersonal love suggest
that love is a rewarding, long-term and dynamic experience.
Sometimes, our participants’ talk about loved products even sounded
like talk about people:
“It’s a real pity. Sometimes I cannot believe my mobile phone is gone”.
“I loved the shoes from the first moment I saw them. They had to be mine
(…) I even dreamt about them”.
Love for products, as described by our participants, seems to have
similar characteristics as interpersonal love. If we can accept that the
love people say they experience for their human partners
similarities to the person-product love stories collected here suggest
that person-product love can also be said to exist.
1.2.2 Why investigate the experience of love for products? A
research perspective
Let’s look back at the love experience presented in the prologue that
sparked this research. Even when bad things happen for example,
fingers bleeding after using a beloved nail clipper people still
experience rewards (rating and describing its use as satisfactory). How
could this phenomenon be explained? We will try to explain it as love, a
rewarding, long-term, and dynamic experience that contains other
affective experiences and arises from meaningful relationships with
special products people own and use. Investigating what underlies the
rewarding and dynamic nature of love could provide a basis for the
promotion of such emotional benefits and people’s wellbeing.
While examining what it means to people to experience love for
products they use, participants often described their efforts in
maintaining relationships with loved products for an extended period of
“I clean it [meat grinder] every time I use it. If I don’t do it, it will rust and
won’t last very long (…) and I won’t be able to use it anymore (…) I don’t
want that to happen”.
“I don’t like to see it [hair brush] getting old but it is old, so I just accept it
(…) I also try to clean it once in a while. I want it to last longer”.
“You can see that the colour is fading. There used to be a butterfly here in
the front but it disappeared already. It [wallet] is getting old, I have it for
almost 5 years now. Already (…) but I don’t want to buy another one”.
“I have these shoes for almost 15 years! I’ve already dyed them, originally
they were light brown (…) I want to dye them again now but I am afraid the
leather can’t take it anymore. It will probably crack (…) I try not to use them
in situations in which they could get damaged, like if it is raining or
Given these statements, research on love for products people use could
also be a potential ally in reducing the impact of products on the
environment. The rewarding nature of love seems to be able to extend
the empathic bond between people and products over time.
In this research we investigate the experience of love for products and
seek to provide insights into how this experience supports wellbeing.
With these insights, guidance for designers could be developed on how
they can design for the experience of love and foster rewarding and
long-term person-product relationships.
1.3 This thesis
This thesis presents an iterative and systematic research into the
experience of love for products. Its six chapters describe a journey in
unravelling and clarifying this complex, powerful and, sometimes,
unexplainable experience people have with special products they love,
own, and use. The main questions addressed in this thesis are the
following. What is the experience of love for products? How can we
investigate love in the field of design? How are person-product
interactions connected to the experience of love? How do person-
product interactions influence the experience of love over time? These
questions are addressed with particular attention to the relevance of the
findings to design. As you accompany me in this journey, you will find
that love for products can be measured, explained through simple
concepts, linked to interactions people have with products, and tracked
over time.
In the next paragraphs I provide an overview of the studies that
are reported in the chapters of this thesis. The research was partly
carried out in collaboration with others, for example graduation students
and research assistants, and partly reported in published papers with
contributions from the supervisors of this PhD project and from fellow
researchers. Therefore, the form ‘we’ is generally used throughout this
In chapter 2 we examine how the experience of love for products can
be investigated in a way that is useful to the field of design. Lacking a
structured design research approach to investigate the love described by
the participants of the initial study (this chapter), we examine whether
love for products can be explained by interpersonal theories from social
psychology. A study is reported in which we trace whether two theories
of interpersonal love match the participant’s stories about their loved
products. These were Sternberg’s triangular theory of love (1988) and
Levinger’s theory of close relationship development and change
(1983/2002). Both theories matched the participants’ stories well,
indicating that the rewards of love and the longevity of love
relationships have a similar structure in both interpersonal and person-
product contexts. Creating a conceptual connection between those two
theories provided us with a basis to investigate the experience of love
for products in this research.
In chapters 3 and 4, research tools are developed for the study of the
experience of love. Their development is based on the findings
presented in chapter 2. In chapter 3, through a content analysis of
participant’s love stories with products, we identify the rewards of love
that are specific to person-product relationships. Then, through a series
of statistical analyses, we develop and validate a psychometric scale
that measures the intensity of rewards of love for products. This scale
can be used as a research tool to assess the quality of the experience
of love at times in a person-product relationship. In chapter 4, through
a series of studies that rely on methods such as content analysis and
card sorting, we develop another research tool that assists participants
in sharing stories of moments in time in which they interacted with
specific loved products and experience love. A pilot study is carried out
in order to confirm the effectiveness of the tool. This tool is based on
a diary approach and also incorporates the psychometric scale.
In chapter 5 we use the combined tool developed in chapters 3 and 4
in two studies, each on a different product type. Person-product
relationships with two product types are studied: shoes and cars. In the
two studies, we examine
- how interactions and the experience of love are connected in person-
product relationships;
- how those connecting aspects influence a change in the experience of
love in an interaction, and;
- how these aspects influence love over time: through change in the
experience of love and through the development of the relationship over
In chapter 6 we present the main findings of this research and discuss
their implications for design research and for strategies on how to
design for the experience of love, with the aim of fostering more
rewarding experiences and long-lasting relationships. Implications for
research on love in other fields are also presented as well as the
limitations of this research and directions for further research.
Chapter 2:
Examining how to investigate the experience of love
for products
In the previous chapter, we explored what it means to people to love
products they own and use. The insights led us to consider person-
product love as a rewarding, dynamic, and long-term experience. In this
chapter we develop an approach to the in-depth investigation of the
experience of love for products, to be conducted in a way that is
relevant to the field of design.
2.1 Product experience
The term product experience refers to the aesthetic, cognitive, and
affective experiences people have with products. It has been defined as
an awareness of any change in affect due to human-product interaction
(Desmet & Hekkert, 2007). Product experiences can be very complex.
They happen in ‘a scene of various dynamic aspects’ in which they are
all tangled together and may occur simultaneously (Jääskö, Mattelmäki,
and Ylirisku, 2003). Experiences (like
, as seen in chapter 1) can be
‘containers’ of other smaller experiences (Forlizzi & Ford, 2000) and the
anticipation or remembrance of product experiences generates other
experiences (Desmet & Hekkert, 2007). All these factors make the study
of product experiences a challenging task.
Chapter based on Russo & Hekkert (2007); Russo (2009); and Russo, Boess,
and Hekkert (2011).
2.1.1 Investigating product experiences
Design researchers successfully investigated product experiences by
looking into interactions between people and products: product
arise from
person-product interactions (for example, Hekkert,
2006; Forlizzi & Ford, 2000; Desmet & Hekkert, 2007). Knowledge on
how experiences arise from person-product interactions can provide
insights with which to design
experiences. Several models and
frameworks have been developed that aim to elucidate the link between
experiences and interactions through various perspectives: for example,
by looking into the different sources of pleasure during interaction
(Jordan, 1999), the contexts and scenarios of experiences (for example,
Forlizzi & Ford, 2000; Hummels, Djajadiningrat, & Overbeeke, 2001;
Jaasko et al, 2003), the appraisal processes that give rise to
experiences (for example, Desmet, 2002; Demir 2009), the different levels
of cognitive involvement during experiences (Norman, 2004). No
approach has been developed yet that is specifically aimed at the
experience of love in the context of use. Out of all the approaches, only
Desmet’s (2002) appraisal approach aims to identify a variety of specific
affective experiences (emotions), such as joy, anger, boredom, and
amusement, and their specific appraisal structure. Could the appraisal
approach help us investigate the experience of love?
2.1.2 The appraisal approach
The appraisal theory claims that emotions arise from evaluations
(appraisals) we make of something during specified events (Scherer,
Banse, & Wallbott, 2001). The way we evaluate, for example, the
appearance or any other particular quality of a product while we
interact with it determines the affective experience we have towards that
product. Desmet (2002) investigated how people evaluate the appearance
of products at an early stage of consumption. He found that the criteria
people use to evaluate products are their personal concerns: a product
elicits an emotion if it is appraised as relevant to people’s concerns
(see figure 2.1). For example, one is proud of a car because its
appearance matches with one’s concern for social acceptance.
Figure 2.1 Basic model of product emotions (Desmet, 2002).
, and many other emotions
people have with products that have a unique underlying appraisal
structure (Demir, Desmet, & Hekkert, 2009), love seems to have a
different structure.
First, despite the fact that many interpersonal love researchers
and theorists refer to love as an emotion (for example, Casler, 1974;
Ortony, Clore, and Collins, 1988), the experience of love does not fit
into descriptions of emotions. Emotions are acute and exist only for a
short period of time, lasting seconds or minutes at most (Ekman, 1994;
Desmet, 2002). Unlike this, as we have seen in chapter 1, people tend
to describe their love for a product as something that is dynamic and
endures over time.
Second, Desmet (2002) found that when participants said they
experienced love for a product they actually experienced desire. In the
stories we collected in the preliminary study (chapter 1) participants
often talk about experiencing
when encountering the beloved
product for the first time. But they also mention other emotions
experienced with their beloved products over time, such as frustration,
happiness, anger, and so on. Here then, love is not similar to desire,
it in participants retrospective reports, besides other
emotions. Love, as we have seen (chapter 1), seems to be a
of emotions
but not an emotion itself. Considering that the experience
of love for products encompasses other affective experiences, we can
conclude that employing the appraisal approach to investigate it might
reveal the emotional experiences love contains instead of the experience
of love per se.
Third, there may be another reason why the experience of love
cannot be grasped by the appraisal approach: the experience of love is
. Although this may sound counterintuitive, as love is
often pictured as something peoplefall in orcant help experiencing,
one must be
to experience love (Murstein, 1988).
Interpersonal love theorists have asserted that love stems from a
people make to love someone
to maintain that love over
time (for example, Fromm, 1956; Sternberg, 2006; Murstein, 1988;
Hendrick & Hendrick, 1989, Berscheid, 2002). Therefore love does not
simply start and end like other affective experiences design researchers
have been investigating. Can we identify moments in time in which
people make these decisions to love products?
Love as a dynamic, long lasting, and container’ experience is not an
emotion and does not fit into the appraisal theory. In chapter 1, we saw
that the experience of love for products has characteristics similar to
the love interpersonal researchers describe when they look at partnering
relationships. Interpersonal love researchers have developed many
models and frameworks to understand the experience of love and its
rewards, dynamics, and longevity. Could interpersonal research on love
provide an approach to investigate the experience of love for products
in design?
2.2 Investigating interpersonal love theories
Interpersonal love theories that examine partnering love have looked into
various aspects of love. Theories, models, and frameworks have been
developed to understand expressions of love (for example, Murstein,
1988; Wilkins & Gareis, 2006); people’s individual experiences (for
example, Sternberg, 1988/2006; Berscheid, 2006; Lee, 1988; Aron,
Dutton, Aron, and Iverson, 1989); types of love (for example, Sternberg,
1988/2006; Aron, Fisher, and Strong, 2006; Aron, Paris, and Aron,
1995); the time course of love (for example, Levinger, 2002; Cunningham
& Antill, 1981; Sternberg, Hojjat, and Barnes, 2001); the nature of love
(for example, Sternberg & Gradjek, 1984; Fehl & Russel, 1991); measures
of love (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1989; Sternberg, 1997); maintenance and
repair of love relationships (for example, Canary & Daiton, 2006;
Sternberg, 2006; Levinger, 2002), and more. All these regard love as a
rewarding, dynamic, and long-term experience.
In order to examine whether these perspectives are useful to our
research, we propose to (1) trace whether these interpersonal love
theories seem to match the experience of love in person-product
relationships and (2) examine the extent to which the theories can help
us define an approach to investigate the experience of love for
products. However, considering the great number of perspectives
available, first we define criteria and use them to select those
interpersonal theories that are most relevant to our research and to the
field of design. Then, by comparing people’s stories about loved
products with interpersonal theories, we trace whether each theory
seems to match the experience of love for a product. We make use of
the stories as verbalized by the participants of the preliminary study
(chapter 1).
2.2.1 Selection criteria
Interpersonal love theories that can be relevant to design and useful to
investigate the rewards, dynamics, and longevity of the experience of
love for products should describe:
A relationship of mainly two partners so that insights can be
transferred to the situation of user and product;
A relationship where dependency is not the main aspect theories
that focus on dependent close interpersonal relationships (such as
between mother and child) are excluded here as these mainly
describe bonds of attachment instead of love;
The different characters the dynamic experience of love may have
this could help us investigate the interrelatedness between the
experience of love and interactions over time;
The time course of the experience of love and love relationships
this could help us understand what influences the experience of love
and the continuation of a love relationship over time.
No theory alone fitted all four criteria. However, together, a theory of
interpersonal love and a theory of interpersonal close relationship
development fitted the criteria and were selected. Both have been
empirically studied, based on observations and people’s accounts of
their own experiences.
Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (1986/2006) describes the
components of love and what is experienced as love in close
relationships. The theory is the basis for a tool, the triangular love
scale. By tracing the intensity of each component of love, the tool
can indicate the quality of love at times in a relationship, enabling
intervention in case the intensity of components is unbalanced.
Additionally, ‘kinds of love indicate eight ways in which people
experience their interpersonal relationship. Sternberg’s theory has
influenced further analyses of interpersonal love (for example,
Murstein, 1988; Berscheid, 2006). However, Sternberg’s triangular
theory only assesses peoples individual experience of love at
isolated moments in time. His secondary theory love as a story
(Sternberg, 1998/2006) aims to describe the development of love
over time but offers an approach that considers the experiences of
both partners in a relationship, which is difficult if not impossible to
apply to relationships between people and products.
Levinger’s (2002 original work published in 1983) theory of
relationship development and change describes the time course of
close partnering relationships (for example, courtship, marriage) as
well as influences that provoke changes in the continuation of these
relationships. His descriptions involve events in which partners
interact. Although he does not focus on the experience of love but
on relationships between romantic partners, his relationship
descriptions also include experiences of love. Other researchers have
used similar descriptions of relationship phases (for example, Wish,
Deutsch & Kaplan, 1976; Pope, 1980) and processes within
relationships that influence its development (for example, Harvey &
Wenzel, 2006; Rusbult, Olsen, Davis, & Hannon, 2001; Clark & Monin,
In the next section, both theories will be described in more detail. In
parallel, we look for fragments in people’s product love stories that
seem to match what is described in the interpersonal theories.
2.3 Tracing person-product love using interpersonal love
2.3.1 The Triangular Theory of Love
The triangular theory poses that the experience of love has three
: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Each component is
experienced through certain rewarding thoughts and feelings and is
characterized by certain rewarding behaviours.
The components of love
component is a long-term experience and includes the
emotional investments and feelings of closeness, connectedness, and
bondedness that lead to the experience of warmth in loving relationships
(Sternberg, 2006). Intimacy comprises behaviours such as sharing one’s
possession and time, caring for someone, expressing empathy for
someone, and communicating honestly with someone. In the person-
product context, participants often expressed a close bond and
connectedness with loved products:
“I feel very close to it. This was not my first mobile phone, but it was the
most important one. I could do everything I wanted with it (…) and I have so
many stories of this phone”.
“I feel like I’m the only person in the world who has this wallet (…) I feel
really close to it, I can’t explain (…) it’s like we were made for each other or
component comprises the motivational involvement in a
relationship and includes the drives that lead to romance, physical
attraction and sexual consummation. Passion is often expressed when
lovers kiss, hug, gaze at each other, touch, and make love (Sternberg,
Participants talked about their attraction to the physical
appearance of their beloved product and about their sensory
gratification from it.
“I really like to hold my tennis racket. It seems perfect for my hands. The
weight, the size (…) sometimes, when I am between matches, I just like to
hold it, to keep it in my hands. I don’t feel like abandoning it on the bench,
or inside my bag (…) I find it pretty, I like these curves”.
component comprises two scenarios: the short-term
scenario describes the cognitions and actions involved in making the
decision to love another and establish a relationship (Sternberg, 2006).
Participants gave hints of a similar process in person-product love when,
for example, deciding to own a product:
“When I saw the hairbrush the first time I realized I was looking for
something like this for ages (…) I needed it, and bought it immediately”.
The long-term scenario describes the commitment to maintain a
relationship and is expressed when lovers pledge and practice fidelity,
stay together through hard times, when they are (somehow) engaged
with each other and when they marry (Sternberg, 1986). We found
evidence of this scenario of commitment in our participants’ reports:
“This meat grinder is a quality product. I know I will have it forever (…) it is
not easy to clean it. It takes time and lots of effort. But I use it anyway. I
would not choose not to use it because it is hard work (…) the feeling I get
when I am using it pays off for the hard work”.
“The hammock is always there for me. Sometimes I am busy, have lots of
things to do. I look around and see my hammock there, waiting for me. I like
that. Of course I cannot always go for it, but I know it is there”.
Sternberg’s components of love provide a structure for the rewarding
experiences people have in a love relationship. By measuring the
intensity, presence, and absence of each of the components of love in
interpersonal relationships, Sternberg defined eight distinguishing
characters a relationship may have at a given time: the kinds of love.
Kinds of love
Although Sternberg calls these eight characters
kinds of love
, they
actually range from the absence of love to the presence of high
intensities of love. The kinds of love indicate the quality of love
relationships at particular moments in time. The first kind of love is
characterized by the absence of all components and is called
It characterizes the majority of interpersonal relationships, for example
with acquaintances, where nothing meaningful or long lasting is
experienced. Non-love may be experienced, for example, in the beginning
of a relationship that becomes meaningful over time. Participants
sometimes mentioned having had such kind of relationship with a
beloved product before the love started:
“It is funny. I bought it [notebook] because it looked nice. I had it for a long
time, but only a few months ago I realized how cool it is (…) I think that the
love grew from that”.
Consummate love
is the other extreme, comprising the intimacy, passion
and commitment components. It is a love many people aspire to.
Attaining it can be difficult, but sustaining it even harder, since
relationships tend to change over time. Our research participants often
expressed themselves in ways that suggest a consummate relationship
with beloved products:
“I think the sunglasses look beautiful [passion]. They fit me very well, they’re
my style [intimacy] (…) and I really hope I never lose them [commitment] (…)
I take very good care of them, but accidents can happen (…) but I hope I
can use them forever”.
describes a relationship involving intimacy only, via feelings of
closeness, bondedness and warmth, like in a true friendship. Liking is
experienced when people get to know each other but no great
commitment is made (yet) or passion has arisen. Liking may be
at times
in love relationships, however, its experience does
not necessarily involve the experience of love. As our participants were
asked to share their experiences with loved products, there were not
many stories where
liking a product was mentioned. Most stories
contained accounts of liking a product - the intimacy component as
well as accounts referring to the other two components. One participant
compared his experiences with a mobile phone he loves with another
one he simply ‘liked’:
“I liked this phone. I don’t have the same stories I have with this other one
[the loved phone]. But it is a fine mobile (…) I can use it, I know how it
works, but I don’t really love it”.
comprises only the passion component. It is experienced,
for example, in the beginning of a love relationship when not much is
known about the other (intimacy) and a commitment was not yet made.
It refers to what people often call ‘love at first sight’ and it is guided by
the appearance and idealization of the other. Participants mentioned
falling in love with their product and idealizing it:
“From the first time I saw the Mp3 player, I really wanted to have it (…) I left
the shop so I could think about it, if I should really buy it or not. But I
couldn’t wait and went back to the store ten minutes later (…) it is so hard
to explain why I wanted to have it. It looked really pretty and fashionable.
But now I look at it and I see that it is just an Mp3 player (…) Don’t get me
wrong, I love it. But I think I was a bit ‘overboard’ when I bought it”.
Although Campbell (1987) described the idealization of products as
restricted to the beginning of a relationship, we found indications of
infatuated love at a later stage. One participant idealized a car even
after it ‘died’ and was thrown away:
“Later we bought another car. Same brand, same colour, but definitely not
the same. No other car will be the same (…) we still think of it, and talk
about it (…) that was the best car”.
Empty love
comprises only the commitment component. It is experienced
in stagnant relationships that have lost their former mutual emotional
involvement and physical attraction. It also occurs at the beginning of a
functional relationship, such as an arranged marriage, in which a couple
agree to share a life together but intimacy and passion have not yet
developed. We found that participants held on to products although
passion had waned, or that they only started loving a product after
learning more about it:
“It’s getting old and parts of it [hair comb] are already breaking. I love it but
deep down I want to replace it. But I can only replace it for the same model
(…) it’s not pretty anymore. A bit dirty even. I tried to clean it but it is
“I got the bottle opener as a present from a friend and I kept it. I used it
once in a while but it was not special at all (…) only some time ago, years
after I got it, a friend told me how beautiful and special it looked. Then I
started to pay more attention to it. I even searched on the Internet and
found out a lot about it (…) that was when everything changed”.
Passionate love
combines the passion and commitment components, for
example in tumultuous love affairs where two people fall in love and
soon marry, not giving time for intimacy to blossom. Examples were also
found in the stories:
“When I saw a friend of mine using the bike lights, I had to have them (…)
the same day I went to the shop and they were sold out (…) for almost two
months I went to the shop every other day to check if they already had
them. I couldn’t stop thinking of them (…). One day I found them and didn’t
even think twice before buying”.
Romantic love
combines the intimacy and passion components. Lacking
commitment, romantic love is ‘liking’
combined with physical or other
attraction, and the idealization of the other.
“I find the lamp so beautiful. I remember the first month or two after I got it,
I couldn’t stop looking at it (…) I was addicted to it, really”.
Companionate love
combines intimacy with commitment. It is a long-term
committed friendship, as often occurs in marriages in which physical
attraction as a major source of passion has waned:
“The wallet is getting old, so I don’t think it is very pretty anymore (…) I just
have to accept that. But the memories I have with it are strong. I try to
clean it once in a while, or at least try to prevent the colour from fading”
Sternberg’s theory suggests that when the components of love are
experienced at a higher intensity and are in more balance, the love
relationship has a better quality. On the other hand, when the
components of love are experienced at a lower intensity and are less
balanced, the love relationship has poorer quality. Relationships that
possess better quality are more rewarding and people expect to
maintain them for longer.
Our participants’ talk of loved products
the descriptions of
components and kinds of love described by Sternberg, leading us to
assume that these as described by Sternberg may also make up the
experience of love for products. The rewarding thoughts, feelings, and
behaviours of love were also rather similar between interpersonal and
person-product love. However, there is also reason to expect that they
are not
. For example, drives and actions in the passion
component that are related to sexual consummation such as kissing and
making love seem to be less relevant in person-product relationships.
Commitment to a product is not expressed through marriage and
seldom through bonding ceremonies, although (as we have seen) buying
or repairing a loved product may be seen as an act of commitment.
Because there are similarities and differences between interpersonal and
person-product love, it could be valuable to investigate further what are
the specific rewarding experiences of love in the context of products.
Furthermore, participants seemed to be at ease with loving more than
one product (although many of them said they did not hold such
relationships with many products at the same time), something that is
less generally accepted in interpersonal relationships.
Although Sternberg’s theory provides valuable leads for the investigation
of person-product love, it does not cover all aspects we have seen in
the data: Sternberg does not describe the transitions between these
kinds of love over time. He only gives general indications of likely
intensities of intimacy, passion, and commitment throughout relationships
without detailing what prompts changes to occur and how. In order to
grasp the dynamics of love through time more fully, we turn to
Levinger’s (2002) theory of relationship development and change.
2.3.2 Relationship development & change
Levinger (2002) examined the development of close interpersonal
relationships by investigating stories of how partners interact over time,
from the perspective of one of the partners. By analysing these stories
he identified five phases: attraction, building, continuation, deterioration
and ending. He defined these phases in analogy to prototypical love
stories. Each phase is not a stable plateau, but rather represents a set
of dynamic tendencies in the course of a relationship. For example,
during attraction, potential lovers move towards each other and their
feelings develop. The attraction phase has a dynamic that makes the
next phase building likely and possible. The phases described by
Levinger have no clear beginning/ending, and sometimes (partly) overlap.
Levinger highlights six causes of change in relationships that can
influence their development. These influences are (1) the experiences
partners have over time, (2) the interactions between partners and with
others, (3) evaluations of rewards and costs, (4) changes in satisfaction
over time, (5) demonstrations of affection and (6) external or internal
influences in people’s lives, such as the coming of a newborn, a change
of job, or a fall into depression over the loss of a loved one.
The attraction phase
Two individuals meet and are attracted to each other’s appearance,
body language, or similar interests. They form impressions about each
other based on their moods, goals, and values (Levinger, 2002).
Participants in our study also shared such stories. For example, a
participant loved the looks of an antique meat grinder when he spotted
it for sale:
“I saw it on a flea market (…) I loved the way it looked. That is what
attracted me in the first place. It looks so robust (…) it looked like a quality
As seen in chapter 1, a participant fell in love with and purchased a
hairbrush mainly because they shared environmental values:
“One thing I really like about the hairbrush is that it is made with certified
wood. I know that no forests were destroyed, or that nature was not
endangered in any way for the making of this hairbrush (…) and these things
are really important to me. That is why I bought it”.
The building phase
A foundation for a relationship can be built by finding common ground
in personality, attitude, and interests. Interactions and such conditions
can transform the lovers relationship and roles (Levinger, 2002). For
example, two people meet, become friends, and then find themselves in
love. However, if unable to find common ground beyond fondness for
each other’s appearance, the relationship may end again. We found
person-product love stories that follow similar lines: a participant began
loving a tennis racket only when she found that it fitted her hand well
when she played:
“At the shop, I didn’t even like the tennis racket. I was looking for a blue
racket, just like the one a friend of mine has. But then that one was too
expensive (…) then I saw this one. I didn’t like the orange colour at all (…)
but after I started using it, everything was different. I love my racket. I even
like the colour now”.
In a counter example, a participant mentioned a failed relationship with
a pair of shoes she was first attracted to:
“When I bought these shoes I thought they were very pretty. I had to have
them (…) I don’t really like them now (…) they don’t fit my feet very well (…)
it hurt too much (…) I’ll just give them away.
While Levinger does not describe such a case, we found that the
building phase can follow from an existing ‘liking’ relationship when it
turns into a ‘loving one (as described by Sternberg). This occurs after
there were external influences or after interactions became more
frequent, like in the story of this participant:
“I think I have this notebook for about 2 or 3 years (…) but only now, after
a friend of mine was all enthusiastic about it telling me how cool it is, I
started to look at it with a different eye (…) then I started to use it a lot
more, and discovered some things about it I didn’t know before (…) now I
like it so much, I use it all the time”.
The continuation phase
During the building phase both lovers begin to evaluate whether the
relationship is worth pursuing: whether the rewards are greater than the
costs. If so, they enter the
phase in which they interact
regularly (Levinger, 2002).
“In the beginning, it was nice to see how the mobile phone works, all the
functions it has (…) I used to spend hours on it (…) now I know how it
works. All its features, its little shortcuts. I can use it with my eyes closed”.
Lovers try to enhance the positive aspects of the relationship by
demonstrating affection, trust, commitment, equality, and mutual
satisfaction. They seek to make their relationship harmonize with and
become part of their social environment:
“Even though I love my tennis racket, I really like when people ask me if
they can try it (…) I’m not jealous but of course I’m afraid that it can be
damaged. But I like to see others enjoying it too (…) I want people to like it
as much as I do”.
Continuous evaluation of the relationship results in changes in
experienced satisfaction. In chapter 1, while presenting our initial
insights, we presented some such evaluations. They were, for example,
evaluations of negative experiences followed by doubts and then the
assessment that love was still present (for example, “I still love it”).
The occurrence of critical events’ such as the birth of the first child or
the shock of a disabling illness can have a big impact on continuation
and mark a change for the better or the worse (Levinger, 2002). In our
study, a participant’s affection for her pair of shoes temporarily
decreased when one day she saw a friend wearing identical shoes. After
an initial disengagement she recovered from the disappointment and
concluded that she still loved to wear them. Another participant’s
affection for and commitment to his mobile phone increased after he
found it in the street, having it lost the night before.
“I was very drunk and I didn’t see that my phone fell to the ground. The
next day, when I woke up, I didn’t know where it was. I immediately jumped
on the bike and re-did my way back home the night before (…) and I found
it. Unbelievable, I was so happy (…) After that I always took very good care
of it. I always search my pockets now, just to check if it is in there”.
The deterioration phase
During the continuation phase a relationship may start to deteriorate. In
phase at least one of the partners experiences the
costs of the relationship as greater than its rewards and may assess
the relationship as not worth saving (Levinger, 2002). Levinger found that
average marital satisfaction declines after some time and partners
disengage. Nevertheless, resolving conflicts or seeking professional help
can reverse the deterioration and reconciliation sometimes occurs
(Levinger, 2002). Our participants sometimes expressed disengagement
from long-term relationships:
“I look at the shoes and I remember so many stories, so many times I’ve
used them (…) but they are old-fashioned now. I don’t wear them so much
anymore, but I’m not throwing them away either”.
Other participants described how their relationship regained power
within limits:
“Something inside the camera was broken and to fix it would cost a lot of
money. I couldn’t pay for it (…) I knew I had to buy another one and I did.
The new camera is nice, but nothing compared to ‘Erin(…) then I realized
that I could use ‘Erin’ to transfer the picture files to the computer. Its
software is a lot better than the one that came with the new camera. So I
managed a way to keep on using it (…) it is a new type of use, but still, it
is nice to be able to use it once in a while”.
The ending phase
Due to passiveness, evaluations of greater costs than rewards, and
failed attempts to restore a relationship, it may eventually end. A
can be triggered by a number of factors internal
or external to the relationship. Mutual disagreements, interest in another
person, depression or low self-esteem such as that caused by job loss
can be reasons why partners end a relationship (Levinger, 2002).
Relationships may also end naturally, with the death of a partner. In
cases such as this, the relationship is often partially maintained in
memory (Levinger, 2002). A few of our participants shared stories of
ending their relationship with a once-loved product, for example because
the feeling of love ended:
“A long time ago I had these shoes that I really loved. (…) But every time I
used them they bruised my toes so much (…) I made a lot of effort to keep
on wearing them. (…) One day I realized it wasn’t worth it anymore, I realized
I didn’t have good memories of them, you know. My shoes definitely didn’t
like me as much as I liked them. I kept them for a while, but later I just
gave them away”.
Another participant gave up on an old beloved car that broke down and
could not be fixed:
“What can I do? It is really gone. When the [car] motor stopped working, that
was the last straw! The door didn’t close properly and it wouldn’t start by
itself anymore, unless we give it a little push (…) anyway, it was dead
already, there was nothing we could do about it”.
Some stories reflected moments in which parti<