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Assessing the four elements of coolness for technological products

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The four elements of coolness are subculture appeal, attractiveness, usefulness, and originality. The bottom line is that a tech product will be considered cool if it is novel, attractive and capable of building a subculture around it. But technical products can turn uncool when they become too popular, says a new study, "Capturing “cool”: Measures for assessing coolness of technological products," published in the current issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Volume 72, Issue 2, February 2014, Pages 169–180.

For example, here in California, Stanford University has a cool products expo where the coolest products are chosen. See, "Our 5 Favorite Inventions at the Stanford Cool Products Expo." In the tech world, coolness takes more than just good looks. Technology users must consider a product attractive, original and edgy before they label those products as cool, according to researchers.

That coolness can turn tepid if the product appears to be losing its edginess, they also found.

USB drives and GPS units, for example, were not considered cool, according to the study, even though they were rated high on utility. "Everyone says they know what 'cool' is, but we wanted to get at the core of what 'cool' actually is, because there's a different connotation to what cool actually means in the tech world," said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications, Penn State, and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, according to the February 11, 2014 news release, "Tech products can turn uncool when they become too popular."

Numerous people think that getting the best is great. Others strive for something better if it's in within reach. But are many people magnifying negative feelings like regret and dissatisfaction in other parts of their daily lives? And those who compare themselves to others may wish they made other choices. But would those choices have led to success or failure depending upon abilities, confidence, and persistence or on whether the person had a home and supportive people around them at the time, that is people supportive to the what-if choice in case the individual took another path to life selections?

The researchers found that a cool technology trend may move like a wave

First, people in groups -- subcultures -- outside the mainstream begin to use a device. The people in the subculture are typically identified as those who stand out from most of the people in the mainstream and have an ability to stay a step ahead of the crowd, according to the researchers.

Once a device gains coolness in the subculture, the product becomes adopted by the mainstream. However, any change to the product's subculture appeal, attractiveness or originality will affect the product's overall coolness, according to the researchers, who report their findings If a product becomes more widely adopted by the mainstream, for example, it becomes less cool.

"It appears to be a process," Sundar said in the news release, "Once the product loses its subculture appeal, for example, it becomes less cool, and therein lies the challenge." The challenge is that most companies want their products to become cool and increase sales, Sundar said in the news release. However, after sells increase, the products become less cool and sales suffer. To succeed, companies must change with the times to stay cool.

"It underscores the need to develop an innovation culture in a company," Sundar explained in the news release. "For a company to make products that remain cool, they must continually innovate." However, products that have fallen out of favor can have coolness restored if the subculture adopts the technology again.

For example, record players, which were replaced in coolness by digital files, are beginning to increase in popularity with the subculture, despite their limited usefulness.

As a result, participants in a survey considered the record players as cool. The researchers asked 315 college students to give their opinions on 14 different products based on the elements of coolness taken from current literature. Previously, researchers believed that coolness was largely related to a device's design and originality.

"Historically, there's a tendency to think that cool is some new technology that is thought of as attractive and novel," said Sundar in the news release. "The idea is you create something innovative and there is hype -- just as when Apple is releasing a new iPhone or iPad -- and the consumers that are standing in line to buy the product say they are buying it because it's cool."

The four elements of coolness: subculture appeal, attractiveness, usefulness, and originality

A follow-up study with 835 participants from the U.S and South Korea narrowed the list to four elements of coolness -- subculture appeal, attractiveness, usefulness and originality -- that arose from the first study. In a third study of 317 participants, the researchers found that usefulness was integrated with the other factors and did not stand on its own as a distinguishing trait of coolness.

"The utility of a product, or its usefulness, was not as much of a part of coolness as we initially thought," said Sundar, according to the news release. Such products as USB drives and GPS units, for example, were not considered cool even though they were rated high on utility.

Which products were rated high on coolness but low on utility?

On the other hand, game consoles like Wii and X-box Kinect were rated high on coolness, but low on utility. However, many products ranking high on coolness -- Macbook, Air, Prezi Software, Instagram and Pandora -- were also seen as quite useful, but utility was not a determining factor.

"The bottom line is that a tech product will be considered cool if it is novel, attractive and capable of building a subculture around it," said Sundar in the news release. Sundar worked with Daniel J. Tamul, assistant professor of communications, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and Mu Wu, graduate student, Penn State.

Other abstracts of studies you may wish to see are, "Startup Makes Wearable Tech to Monitor Vitals, Head Trauma," or "American firm MC10 makes wearable tech for vital signs and head trauma."

Are you a high achiever? Even the best products might leave you dissatisfied

Make the honor roll, go for the promotion, or try the tastiest entrée on the menu. In almost every facet of our culture, we are told to "go for the gold." So, why settle for "good enough" when "something better" is within reach? According to a new study, "The Maximizing Mind-Set," to be published in print June 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Research. The new study reported that constantly striving for the best may be magnifying negative feelings like regret and dissatisfaction in other parts of our daily lives.

"We found that individuals who have a 'must have the best' mindset experience more regret and are less satisfied with the products they purchase or consume. They are also more likely to return the items or switch brands entirely," write authors Jingjing Ma and Neal J. Roese (both Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University), according to the February 11, 2014 news release, "Are you a high achiever? Even the best products might leave you dissatisfied."

Across seven experiments, the authors examined the impact of what they term the "maximizing mindset" on participants' ability to make decisions when they are feeling or behaving in a certain way. Consumers with a maximizing mindset typically have a tendency to compare and adopt a goal of getting the best, even if it requires them to work harder, search more deeply, and ultimately perform better than their peers.

In one study, participants played a computer game that measured typing speed and were told the response times were a measure of their intelligence levels

Next, participants were asked to select a brand of backpack from a list of five choices and describe the features of their current backpack. The test takers were then given false computer game results that ranked them as either in the top 10% of intelligence level or below average. The researchers found that the participants who received poor test results expressed more regret about their backpack choice than those who fell in the top 10%.

"Our research shows the potential impact of the maximizing mindset on post-purchase regret, customer satisfaction, and brand loyalty, particularly for companies claiming to offer the best available product on the market. We also offer an insight on the impact the maximizing mindset has on our daily lives. Constantly comparing and focusing on getting the best can have a negative effect on our psychological well-being, particularly when we do not get the best," the authors conclude, according to the news release. Other abstracts of recent studies you may want to see are, "What Makes You Happy? It Depends on How Old You (Think) You Are," and "7 Obscure Status Symbols."

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