Semantic discontinuities: investigating designers' product expressions versus users' product impressions

Khalaj, Javad
The doctoral thesis investigates issues in design communication between a designer’s semantic intention and users’ initial experience of a product, with a focus on visual qualities. The starting argumentation is that there can exist a level of discontinuity between meanings as intended to be expressed (by the designer of a product) and meanings as actually construed (by target users of that product). The primary purpose of the research is to develop and implement a methodology to identify where, and to what extent, semantic discontinuities related to connotative meanings are present in product design. A new experimental ‘Semantic Expression/Impression Comparison’ method (SEIC method) is developed and implemented to explore the main subject of the thesis. The SEIC method is applied to an empirical study considering 3 chairs and 3 lamps, designed and produced by three well-known Swedish designers. In total, four data collection and analysis stages are presented: 1) designers’ intended visual expressions, 2) users’ initial visual impressions, 3) users’ evaluations of designers’ intended visual expressions, and 4) designers’ evaluations of users’ realized visual impressions. The qualitative approach to data analysis leads to the creation of Semantic Discontinuity Maps, revealing that designers are able to influence users’ product perceptions, in many cases being considerably successful in eliciting their intended product expressions. However, users’ overall impressions are not limited to only positive experience (as preferably intended by designers), but also include negative and indifferent experiences, which are usually outside of designers’ intentions or expectations. Quantitative analysis of semantic discontinuity data is used to generate Banded Discontinuity Profiles, showing that the studied designers are generally successful in maintaining semantic intent within close tolerances (76 %), but are unable to successfully communicate semantic intent in approximately one-in-four instances (24%). A follow-up micro-analysis is presented and used to illuminate whereabouts design effort should be placed to better realize semantic intent through product visual form.


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Citation Formats
J. Khalaj, “Semantic discontinuities: investigating designers’ product expressions versus users’ product impressions,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2015.