The Real Paul Jones

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Cuteness Studies

Japan Defence Force is cute  too
Marcella alerts us to an important conference upcoming in Cape Town this February, Designing Cute Interactive Media. I need to get a paper ready but the deadline is tight — they’re due December 31.

is more that attractiveness, which my colleague Sri knows quite a bit about — to the point of reciting a bibliography on attractiveness and the media effect of the same whilst we stood on the steps this afternoon. Where attractiveness is an aesthetic value and perhaps even culturally bound, cuteness may be deeper in our genetic encoding as Lorenz points out. What that says about Japan’s complete embrace of cuteness as kawaisa, I’m not quite sure. But the cultural impact of the Japanese identity and connections to cuteness (kawaii) and innocence is undeniable.

How to generate a paper with some serious consideration of kawaii and interactivity? Suggestions welcomed.

Cuteness has an effective design philosophy that can be used in many areas to make emotionally engaging user interactive systems, as well as evaluate existing systems. Cuteness can also be included as an engineering design framework that can assist designers and engineers when creating engaging interactive systems that motivate the user in a happy, positive manner.

We look at a range of experiences involving the idea of “cuteness” and its related components. From a psychological standpoint, there are cues that are well known that are instilled in us at an instinctual level. An example is the features of babies that bring out a nurturing and adoration response. Measuring these reactions however is less discrete and is more qualitative in nature. From a cultural standpoint, the definition of how cute something is and what it drives the user to do in response is not yet fully explored.

The main goal of this workshop is to provide designers with a better understanding of developing ways to enhance the positive experience and effectiveness of interactive media by utilizing the psychological and culturally developed effects of cuteness. We would also like to explore a range of interactive experiences involving the idea of cuteness and examine the related components. Based on these experiences, the next generation user interfaces can be built to take advantage of the cuteness factor and its unique effects on the experience which can establish and maintain more meaningful relationships with the users and encourage happiness, self confidence, motivate the user to action, and provide overall positive experiences.


  1. Here’s one for you: a blog widget called “The Cute Project” that has little photos of cute things that load up.

    Here’s one for you, considering the line between “cute” and “attractive”: where is the line between “cute” and “sexy”? Japanese animation attempts to blur that line in some very disconcerting ways. Is this our human fetish for youth being made concrete? Do we have a human fetish for youth, or is it cultural? Hmmm.

  2. Paul

    12/9/2007 at 10:06 pm

    In the Lorenzian sense, cute is not sexualized. But there is plenty of evidence that the Lorenzian line is crossed many times over in cultural practive. Kawai’i takes its cues from the highly child-fetishized Japanese culture (or at least to Americans the Japanese versions of kawaii seem to be tied to a overly fetishized presentation of childishness and of cuteness). Is this a taboo being broken? Or as you say an acknowledgment of some human drive that we culturally choose to ignore? This is clearly outside of my area of research and even speculation.

    I do think that in America we take some other approaches to cuteness. We take the dangerous and ugly and make it cute. Pirates, ninjas, zombies, etc are made cute until we no longer recognize the fear that we once found in them. We also take the cute and childlike and make it scary and ugly. The killer dolls, killer clowns, the foul-mouthed kids (but very very funny) kids in Southpark. Americans take cute in other directions; we are so rich with irony here.

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