Cosmetic obsolescence? User perceptions of new and artificially aged materials

This paper presents the findings of a user study which explored tactile and aesthetic responses to new and artificially aged mobile phone cases made from bamboo, walnut, cork, leather, brushed titanium, plastic and rubber. The paper outlines test methods for accelerated ageing of the external enclosures of consumer electronics based on the types of wear experienced in use, and the use of semantic differential scales (SDS) to probe user attitudes to these materials. The results indicate that preferences for the materials tested were extremely subjective, and even a single participant can have conflicting requirements for the characteristics of the materials (for example, sleek and shiny yet easy to grip). Whilst in general participants preferred the new materials and saw the ageing process as negative, there were examples where the aged samples either scored more highly due to durability (titanium) or received positive comments about the aesthetic changes caused by severe ageing (bamboo and leather). This study captured the participants' immediate, visceral response to the materials, which may be very different to their feelings towards materials and objects that they have owned and interacted with for a period of time.