Deger Ozkaramanli

TU Delft


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Deger Ozkaramanli is a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology, and a member of Delft Institute of Positive Design. Her PhD project investigates the potential of intra-personal concern conflicts (i.e. dilemmas) as creative input for user-centered design. She aims to develop the necessary knowledge and the supporting tools for designers to utilize dilemmas as a starting point for design activities.

PhD-project 2011 – 2015. Pieter Desmet (promoter), Elif Ozcan (daily supervisor)

Designing with dilemmas: identifying and designing with conflicting concerns

Dilemmas are pervasive in everyday life, and thus, ignoring them when designing products would be like ignoring a crucial part of what makes users human.

Designers are skillful in identifying and designing for unfulfilled wants and needs of their users: this is the premise of user-centered design. In emotion-driven design, the term concern is used to collectively refer to users’ goals, needs, and preferences. Designing products that fulfill users’ concerns is a potent way of designing for emotions (Desmet, 2002). In addition, designing to fulfill users’ personal (long- or short-term) goals and aspirations (designing for personal significance) is one of the main constituents of Positive Design (Desmet and Pohlmeyer, 2013).

However, people seek to fulfill multiple, and often conflicting, concerns during their everyday activities: we may decide to skip our gym-night to go to the movies (concern for entertainment), and yet, wish we would have a fine-looking body like the movie stars we admire (concern for beauty). Or we may want to show our best selves to increase our chance for a promotion (concern for competence), yet we also want to remain modest because we do not like to be perceived as being arrogant (concern for social approval). Such conflict among concerns is the rule in everyday life rather than the exception (Frijda, 2007). Being related to important psychological processes such as decision-making and self-actualization, these concern conflicts might have a negative influence on the satisfaction derived from daily choices (phenomenon called paradox of choice) (Schwartz, 2004) and on subjective wellbeing in general (Emmons and King, 1988).

Conflicting concerns might be considered a challenge for designing, because they seem to enforce a design choice between the concerns in conflict. Designers can indeed take any of these concerns as the starting point for designing something that appeals to the user. However, addressing unfulfilled concerns separately might result in designs that fulfill one concern while ignoring the other. As a result, these designs might evoke both pleasant and unpleasant user experiences. Therefore, we propose that focusing on the conflict between the concerns, rather than on specific concerns in isolation, can lead to solutions that tackle this emotional duality (Ozkaramanli and Desmet, 2012).

People’s conflicting concerns often manifest themselves as dilemmas. An example of a dilemma-inspired design is the ‘Uniekies Game’ in Figure 1, which was designed by Janine Innemee with the intention to help able-bodied children empathize with disabled children in the context of social play1. In this case, the designer found that able-bodied children were ambivalent towards including disabled children in play activities. Playing with disabled children slowed down the game leading to boredom (concern for fun); however, completely excluding them caused able-bodied children to feel guilty (concern for unity). The game addresses this concern conflict by introducing disabled children as heroes with special powers who are to be admired. Able-bodied children can also become heroes by dressing up in special suits and training their powers. For example, Bumper in Figure 1 symbolizes a child in a wheelchair who cannot run, but has the unique power of quickly clearing off the play-path for his followers. When playing the game, an able bodied child can wear a balloon-suit (i.e., a thread connecting 5-10 balloons around the body) to experience the challenges of being in a wheelchair in a simple and fun way. As a result, Uniekies Game creates a play context that enables challenging solidarity, and thus, resolves children’s dilemma by fulfilling conflicting concerns simultaneously (Ozkaramanli, Ozcan, and Desmet, 2014).

Figure 1. Bumper (a child in a wheelchair) represents a super-hero with the unique power of quickly clearing off the play-path for his followers.

We suggest a three-stage approach to designing with dilemmas: (1) identifying dilemmas, (2) selecting and refining a target dilemma, and (3) creating design ideas that can address the selected dilemma (Ozkaramanli, Ozcan, and Desmet, 2014). The first stage of the proposed approach, which is the focus of this paper, requires identifying dilemmas that are relevant to the user and inspiring to the designer. In stage two, designers analyze dilemmas and select a “target” dilemma to design with. The selected dilemma can then be taken as a starting point for the third stage: generating design ideas that can address the given dilemma. This stage is supported by design strategies that can be used to structure and energize the ideation process (Ozkaramanli, Desmet, and Ozcan, 2015). In addition to enabling inclusive play (Innemee, 2013), the three-stage process of designing with dilemmas has so far been implemented in domains such as motivating sustainable eating habits (Ozkaramanli and Desmet, 2012), supporting renewable energy production (Bins, 2014), and coping with stress (Coehoorn, 2014).


Bins, W. (2014) A design intervention that triggers people to reflect on continuous spatial changes with an emphasis on local wind farm implementation. Master Thesis, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands.

Coehoorn, M. (2014) An absurd design intervention for redefining smart-phone usage. Master Thesis, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands.

Desmet, P. M. A. (2002). Designing emotions. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands.

Desmet, P. M., and Pohlmeyer, A. E. (2013) Positive design: An introduction to design for subjective well-being. International Journal of Design, 7(3), 5­–19.

Emmons, R. A., and King, L. A. (1988) Conflicts among personal strivings: Immediate and long-term implications for psychological and physical well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1040-1048.

Frijda, N. H. (2007) The laws of emotions. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Innemee, J. X. (2014) Uniekies Game: Changing a child’s mindset towards children with disabilities. Master Thesis, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands.

Ozkaramanli, D., and Desmet, P. M. (2012) I knew I shouldn’t, yet I did it again! Emotion-driven design as a means to motivate subjective well-being. International Journal of Design, 6(1), 27–39.

Ozkaramanli, D., Desmet, P. M. A., and Ozcan, E. (2015 – In progress) Beyond resolving dilemmas: three design directions for addressing intrapersonal concern conflicts.

Ozkaramanli, D., Ozcan, E., and Desmet, P. M. A. (2014) Capturing conflict experiences: Five methods for identifying intra-personal concern conflicts. In Salamanca, J., Desmet, P., Burbano, A., Ludden, G., Maya, J. (Eds.). Proceedings of the Colors of Care: The 9th International Conference on Design & Emotion (pp. 317-324). Bogotá, October 6-10, 2014.

Ozkaramanli, D., Ozcan, E., and Desmet, P. M. A. (2014) Language of conflicts: An introduction to using concern conflicts as a design opportunity. In Salamanca, J., Desmet, P., Burbano, A., Ludden, G., Maya, J. (Eds.). Proceedings of the Colors of Care: The 9th International Conference on Design & Emotion (pp. 163-165). Bogotá, October 6-10, 2014.

Schwartz, B. (2004) The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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