Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Comparison of Semantic Intent and Realization in Product Design: A Study on High-End Furniture Impressions

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Comparison of Semantic Intent and Realization in Product Design: A Study on High-End Furniture Impressions

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this paper, we concern ourselves with semantic intent and realization (e.g., personality, style, character, identity) in relation to pre-use product impressions, stimulated by qualities of product form and materialization (e.g., shape, colour, texture, pattern, shade, light, ornament, material). Although just a few minutes appraising a product (and thereby arousing a general interest or disinterest) is an entirely different experience to twelve months relying on that same product (Fisher, 2004), such limited time is all that the designer has available to impart a positive 'first impression' and arouse further consideration by potential purchasers. By implication, Crilly, Moultrie, and Clarkson (2004) argued that initial perception is a key stage in the process of design communication that affects cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to a product, which in turn will moderate the interest levels of users.

The potential existence of mismatches between what designers intend and what users perceive from a finished design is often mentioned in the literature as a problem across design specialisms (Ahmed & Boelskifte, 2006; Chamorro-Koc, Popovic, & Emmison, 2008; Crilly, Maier, & Clarkson, 2008b; Hassenzahl, 2003; Lindh, 2010; Jin & Boling, 2010). In UxD (user experience design), the notion that designers can influence, but not dictate, meaningful experiences is a central philosophical matter (Wendt, 2013). Krippendorff (2006) discussed mismatches between designers' conceptual models and users' mental models regarding visual use cues and product functionality, where mismatches can lead to serious problems in product operation. Similarly, Norman (1998) emphasized that designers' and users' concepts of product interaction may differ because of different interpretations of the affordances of product form [communicated through what he terms the 'system (product) image'.]

Mismatches outside the realm of functionality, which is the main focus for this paper, are less well represented in literature. Nevertheless, the general topic of user responses to visual product attributes are well documented, spanning for example the moderating factors that influence responses, the general role of product appearance, and the messages that product appearances convey (Bloch, 1995; Chang, Lai, & Chang, 2006; Creusen & Schoormans, 2005; Crilly et al., 2004; Desmet & Hekkert, 2007). Inevitably such studies have close relation to the semantics of styling and materialization. The purpose of styling and the presence of other supra-functional (McDonagh-Philp & Lebbon, 2000) visual attributes of a product (i.e., having a purpose beyond functionality) have been discussed extensively in literature (Berkowitz, 1987; Creusen & Schoormans, 2005; Crilly et al., 2004; Demir, 2008). Two basic perspectives, usually somewhat intertwined, can be identified. The first is competitive and strategic, regarding the visual domain of a design as a means to affect users' preferences and increase sales. The second is a human-oriented perspective, in which visual product attributes are used to satisfy the tastes and psychological needs of users, who expect far more from a product, service, or system than merely its function. As authors and designers, we align with the second perspective and tend to view the first as a consequence of the second.

So what does it matter if mismatches exist between intended and realized impressions? The overarching matter is connectedness and appeal to target users. Mismatches would reveal that target users were unable to locate or recognize product meanings that designers had intended for them, exposing a failure in the product communication process centered on product semantics. Such failures are problematic because designers use product semantics as an important stepping-stone to product appeal and desire; they manipulate product form and material so as to be meaningful to users. …

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