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2 belongings



Generative design research is an approach for co-designing and co-creating with people not trained in design. Its methods use incompleteness to trigger people's imaginations and compel them to fill in. Using generative exercises, we uncovered and made sense of the connections that humans have with their belongings: knowledge that is fundamental for all businesses and designers to understand. 

Uncovering Deeper
Human Motivations

Generative design is a collaborative design methodology that leads to the uncovering of harder to achieve tacit and latent knowledge. This deeper knowledge drives untapped business and design opportunities.

The Approach of Generative Design Research 

Why do we keep things hidden away, but never revisit them?

Why do we have so much stuff?

Is our identity inseparable from our belongings?

When does a home become a home?

Guiding Research Questions

Discovered Themes

From our exhaustive research and analysis, we uncovered 5 recurring Themes. Generative design research culminates in the definition of key themes that can drive hundreds of ideas that are rooted in deep insights and opportunities.

Utility vs.


Universe of



to Attachment

The Concept

of Home

Reflection vs.


Utility vs Emotion

Belongings can be compartmentalized by their utility or emotive quality.


On either side of the spectrum, a threshold exists that can transform a belonging from utilitarian into essential or emotive into a treasure.

Universe of Special

We heard words like special, treasure, trophy, and irreplaceable.


They can be very different items and the same for very different people. Yet, they are all centered around this idea of special that can be attained through different means.

The Doorways

to Attachment

There's a difference between self image and your true self.

This truth revealed four different doorways that an object or a person can open to interact with a person's true self. The closer you can get to the middle the greater the attachment between you and the owner. 

The Abstract

Concept of Home

When does a home become a home?


More often than not, the behaviors and rituals of owning belongings happens in the home. ​Loved ones and self identity are the two pillars that build a home and its roof is how a home makes you fill. We feel the space with things and people to create those feelings.

Identity: Reflection

vs. Disguise

What gives our identity substance?

Our belongings are the manifestation of our desire to define ourselves. This identity is comprised of both reflection and disguise. It's like a play with many stages, audiences, viewers, and companions.


People imprint strong memories or feelings onto the items they treasure.


HMW... provide a way to revisit or re-experience that memory or feeling?


The home is not a physical space. It is dynamic and always changing. Yet universally, there is a strong emotion attached to it.


HMW... capture the essence of the feelings of home in a product?


People long for journaling, but many don't keep up with it. 




HMW... redefine journaling and make it a sustainable activity.


The objects with the strongest connections are usually related to family/loved ones.




HMW... replicate this connection we have with family and loved ones in the design of a product?  

Synthesizing Research into Value

Insights and Opportunities

Thinking through themes provided us an anchor point to define insights that were rooted in the reasons people were most attached to their belongings.

Distilling these insights into "How Might We" opportunity statements acts as an open ended design prompt for design and product teams to create customer value.


Pile sort


Understanding how people see their universe of possessions.



This method is ideal as a warm up exercise and helps the interviewer quickly scan for good leads. The participant is presented with a deck of cards with images of different items. They choose the ones that represent their belongings, and without direction, put them in an arrangement that makes sense to them.


Forced decision making from pile sort


Understanding the motives for owning

and keeping belongings. 



In a simulated moving scenario, we asked the participants to eliminate half of their items. This forced them to prioritize their belongings even more and it explained a lot about their motivations for owning and keeping things. 


Dixit deck timeline


Understanding the experiences people have with their belongings. 


The participant is asked to think of an item from their past that was hard to get rid of and then asked to tell the story from beginning to end.


The participant is presented with a deck of Dixit cards, which have surreal  illustrations that are very effective for prompting storytelling.

The Research Process

Crafting the generative design research goals and methods helps to uncover tacit and latent knowledge layer by layer through specifically chosen exercises.

Making Order

Out of Chaos

Using different analysis methodologies and visual models provides different angles to uncover deeper patterns, themes, and insights from the qualitative research.

KJ Method (aka "Affinity Mapping")

to  quickly uncover patterns.

The Methods

A&I + POEMS Framework to uncover the associated activities, interactions, people, objects, environments, messages and services.

The Ethnographer's Questions to analyze people's sense of order, rituals, and roles.

Social Order to define the interpersonal dynamics.

User Experience Journey Map to visualize what people do, think, say and feel along their journeys.

Bordieu's Four Forms of Capital examining the idea of power and where it comes from.

P.N.S.T.I.O to distill all of the qualitative research and analysis into problems, needs, themes, insights and opportunities.

A World of Hyper Consumption

Black Friday. Amazon Prime. Social Media Influencers.

People own a lot of stuff and they continue to buy more. In our digitized world of 24/7 social connectivity and countless on-demand services, it is fundamental knowledge for businesses and designers to understand what people's basic motivations are for having the stuff they have.


But how do you uncover these deep insights? Things people won't tell you in the typical interview. 

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