Choosing a Mate, Selecting a Chair

A design researcher suggests people look for the same qualities in products as they do in their partners.

Selecting a life partner is a lot like choosing a chair, says Ayca Cakmakli.

Speaking at the 7th International Design and Emotion Conference, Cakmakli, who has a master's in industrial design from the Pratt Institute and is a design researcher at Smart Design in New York, explained why: desirable products and people we are attracted to are similar in lots of ways.

Psychologists have been investigating how we identify a good mate for years. The criteria used to make our decisions, as Cakmakli describes, are frighteningly similar to those reviewed to select products we want to bring home. The same set of core standards is pertinent in each situation since both objects and partners need to support us functionally and emotionally.

So, what factors play such important roles in our lives? In her talk, "A Good Design = A Good Mate," she identifies seven:

Attractiveness. No real surprise here. Aesthetic experience matters.

• Social status. Historically, this criterion has been very important to women shopping for husbands. Now people, in general, are out in the marketplace looking for brands consistent with their lifestyle and values.

• Intelligence. At last, a criterion we can feel good about. For products, intelligence translates to capabilities and how well an item can be adapted to user needs.

• Trustworthiness. When a product delivers what it's promised, it's trustworthy.

• Empathy. Products that are empathetic satisfy needs intuitively that consumers may not realize they have — in an honorable way.

• Ambitious. Innovative products meet this criterion.

• Exciting. Positive surprise makes a product exciting.

We want our partnerships with people to last a long time and regularly they do - even though it can be difficult to know up front how well a person really meets any of our selection criteria.

Often our relationships with people evolve, just as our bonds to objects can develop over time. Enduring human-object relationships are Earth friendly because fewer resources are consumed replacing things that are no longer desired. Fewer packaging materials and fewer wedding pictures in the dump are both good things.