A comparison of three pyramids

The last six months I’ve been wondering what a pleasurable user experience would be for people with disabilites. After doing a little but of research I came to the conclusion that a pleasurable experience for people who are blind would be an unacceptable experience for me. I did some research into what a makes a user experience pleasurable. One of the books I read about this subject is Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter.

In this book Walter presents a hierarchy of users’ needs in the form of a pyramid. He calls this pyramid a remapping of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[1]. While I find the result of this remapping very usable for parts of my research I’ve never really understood the method Walter used to translate the one pyramid into the other.

Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs (physiological -> safety -> love/belonging -> esteem -> self-actualization) somehow turns into Walter’s Pyramid of User’s Needs (functional -> reliable -> usable -> pleasurable)

And on closer reading of his book he doesn’t really provide a method for this translation. He says that if we translate Maslow’s model into the needs of users it might look something like this. This doesn’t seem like a very scientific method. This raises two questions: is the comparison with Maslow’s pyramid necessary? And if it isn’t, does the pyramid in itself make sense?

I think the comparison with Maslow’s pyramid is not necessary. The two things are maybe somewhat similar, but I can’t find a direct correlation between the different layers of both hierarchies.

Another similar pyramid of user’s needs

Stephen P. Anderson presents a User Experience Hierarchy Of Needs model in his book Seductive Interaction Design[2]. The bottom three layers of this model are the same as Walter’s, but in his model Anderson splits the top part of the pyramid into three layers: Convenient, pleasurable, and at the very top meaningful.

Where Walter tries to somehow connect his model to a well known model from another profession, Anderson explains where his model comes from. He explains that this model can be seen as a basic product maturity continuum[3]. Ideas often start as a functional solution to a problem. Once a first version of such a solution is made the product needs to be reliable. A travel planner that doesn’t work during a disruption is of not much use. The first interesting difference between Walter’s and Anderson’s pyramids starts at the level of usability. Where for Walter this is one single layer, Anderson splits this into two distinctive layers: usability fixes known problems with existing patterns, while convenience tries to make things work in a more natural way.

Pleasure and meaning are the two top layers of Anderson’s model. This is what most of his book is about: how can you design a product of experience that leaves a lasting impression. These two layers move from the general to the personal: what’s pleasurable in one context, may be unpleasant in a different situation, and what’s meaningful to some may be senseless to others.

More interesting observations from Anderson’s model

There are a few interesting things that Anderson says that are useful for my research. He states that meaning is very personal. It can be managed for groups of people though by shepherding beliefs and communities surrounding a product. In my research I have no interest in shepherding, but I do have an interest in designing with a much more personal approach. This model provides the room for such an approach.
Another interesting thing is that Anderson’s pyramid can be approached from both sides. In both Maslow’s and Walter’s hierarchies all levels depend on each other. You need the bottom layers in order to reach the top. Anderson states that while this is true, this can also be achieved by starting at the top and working downwards.


  1. Aarron Walter, Designing for Emotion, 2011, A Book Apart, page 9 of 83, ePub edition  ↩

  2. Stephen P. Anderson, Seductive Interaction Design, 2011, New Riders, page 12  ↩

  3. Anderson, Seductive Interaction Design, page 11  ↩

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