Integrating towards Meaning

Kiarash Irandoust & Zhiyuan Zheng –

This document describes the process we follow to reach to our design goal, advancing mindsets. We propose a three layered design process which consists of design basis, design body and design goal.

I  Abstract

Our design process involves design basis, design body and a final goal. The threesome of technology, language and society form the basis of our design process. The body interacts with the basis including three leading activities: active observing, fading borders and creating harmony. Several filters are used in the process, helping make design decisions. As a whole, advancing mindset of human by enhancing meanings through design is our final goal.

II  Design Basis

We consider designing as construction on the foundation of technology, language and society; three elements which are tightly linked together and influence each other.
While Design-driven approach considers language (Verganti, 2009) as the most determining element of design and user-centered approach considers user’s needs ( Norman, 2002), we think these elements cannot be prioritize. Our description of these elements is as the following:
Technology: the knowledge, systems, processes, and products resulting from science and engineering
Society: considering each human as an individual and in relation with a group of people. This category includes all needs, values, relations, environment, economy and so on
Language: any form of expression and communication of thoughts, emotions and knowledge which is used in society and science.

III  Design Body

The design body consists of all design activities which is done in the context of innovating meanings. It is a higher level than design basis while interactive processes going on between two layers. Three elements of design basis can be considered as design’s sources. Designer has major influence on selecting and implementing sources; they can push the developments of these three elements when needed.

The leading principles in design body for us are comprehensive observing, creating harmony, and fading borders. There can be other design activities alongside to support the design process. This area is open and depends on the designer’s position in the design industry.

Background image © Zhiyuan Zheng

Comprehensive Observing

When the very first role of industrial designer was named in the United States, the design approach was simply market-pull; as Raymond Loewy indicated, “the most beautiful curve is the raising sales graph”. The end-users were at the center of design process and designs intended just to meet their needs. The next stage was user-centered design, of which Donald Norman is the leading representative. In his theory, users’ needs are still in the center of design engineering, while the goal is to develop a good and user-friendly design, instead of a good market result ( Norman, 2002). Years later, studio of IDEO proposed human-centered design that raised the focus towards societal level. The goal was to understand the society, which results in an innovative and user-friendly design (Kelley, et al., 2011). However, in Verganti’s approach, users are eliminated from the scope. Interpreters are used as a resource for understanding the society (Verganti, 2009).
In our approach, we take a step back from eliminating users in the scope; instead, we observe users comprehensively as a whole. We do not participate directly in their activities; however we observe them from a third-person’s view while comprehending the real meaning behind the activities.

Background image © Bang & Olufsen

Creating Harmony

Designing is about balancing and trading off. On one hand, information derived from the three sources should be thoroughly argued, creating a harmony in between. On the other hand, industrial designers stand higher in a design process where the relation with design basis should be well maintained in such a way that, for example, designer can push technology towards meeting certain requirements and technology serves as an input and inspiration. Both connections should be harmonized, which is similar to the role of a conductor in an orchestra.
Bang & Olufsen presented their well-thought design approach towards design-driven innovation in November 2007. In their concept development phase, they use industrial designers as a conductor in the development team, engineers as musicians and customers as audiences. This is an ongoing and non-democratic process that the conductor continuously trains the musicians, achieving a harmonized unity. This integration helps Bang & Olufsen reach meaning innovations in home entertainment domain.

Background image © IBM Smarter Planet

Fading Borders

In this post-information era, the world has become a global village, where borders are blurred. We believe that industrial designers are working towards fading the borders not only in the geometrical sense, but also between the three elements in the design basis.
The most famous example in the information era is the Internet, which becomes a powerful tool to vanish the borders by itself. It shrinks the perception of time that things can happen within seconds rather than years. Therefore, the experience of spatial transformation is also altered that results in disappearing of borders. In society, people also see benefits of breaking down borders, for instance the birth of European Union in 1952. Later on, as Samuel J. Palmisano, CEO of IBM Corporation mentioned in his presentation in 2008 in New York, “The crisis in our financial markets has jolted us awake to the realities and dangers of highly complex global systems. But in truth, the first decade of the 21st century has been a series of wake-up calls with a single subject: the reality of global integration.” This means that, the digital and physical infrastructures of the world are converging, because of the abundant available technologies and networking (A Smarter Planet: The Next Leadership Agenda, 2008). All these efforts contribute to the idea of formulating a unity, and we believe that industrial designer should utilize the possibilities to connect people and objects.

IV   Filters

Design body is not a linear process, several convergent and divergent take place in it. Filters are used to conduct the design direction toward design goal. Two prominent filters which have profound influence on our decision making are environmental respect and appreciating cultures. They are described as following.

Background image © Philips Design

Environmental respect: respecting the natural world by diminishing or possibly eliminating negative environmental impact.

Background image © Zhiyuan Zheng

Appreciating Cultures: social anthropology defines “culture” as a pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving (Hofstede, 1997). Whereas this definition demonstrates the diversity of cultures, many similarities can be found within this scope. Finding cultural overlaps and designing base on these criteria.

It is worth mentioning that filters can differ according to the project nature.

V   Design Goal

Rokeach’s value theory defines values as instrumental and terminal. Terminal values are “end result” values while instrumental values are the ways to accomplish the terminal values (A Theory of Organization and Change within Value-Attitude Systems, 1968). While enhancing meaning is our instrumental value we intend to reach advancing mindset as the terminal value.

Background image © Philips Design

Enhancing Meaning

Krippendorff (1989) defines design as “making sense of things” and in in his book “ (Krippendorff , 2005)” criticizes the perspective of semiotics and suggests a paradigm shift in the design of artifacts from “an emphasis on how artifacts ought to function to what they mean to those affected by them

Verganti in “Design-driven innovation” argues that various meanings are often attached to the same product by different users, stakeholders. He expresses, “Humans do not see and act on the physical qualities of things, but on what they mean to them” (p. 47). He suggests proposing radical meaning.
They all emphasize on importance of meaning in designing. Our initial design goal is to enhance the meanings by changing the notions that people already share.

In the field of lighting, some good examples can be found which fit in our vision; for instance, the Metamorfosi lamp developed by Artemide, an Italian lighting company. Metamorfosi is a lamp that comprises three light bulbs in different colours. By controlling through a remote controller, the user is able to change the colour rendering of the environment. Here Metamorfosi proposes a meaning that light is not only used to bright-up space, instead, it can also change people’s perception. This new meaning is developed based on the traditional meaning that people gave to light. In this sense, the meaning of lighting is enhanced through design.

Background image © IBM Smarter Planet

Advancing Mindset

Human beings are changing, societies are changing and the word is changing. Hence we are able to change and create changes. We, as designers, believe advancing mindset is the terminal goal of enhancing meaning through design.
Compared to years ago, people nowadays share a general better understanding of what the “world” is. This implies the societal change towards a higher level of intelligence. It is developing over time, but still, different professions can boost this change it varies angles. We as designers, by designing or proposing new meanings, can have significant influences on the perception of the “world”. IBM as a company, propose a large blueprint towards the far future that our planet is smarter with intelligent objects interconnected (A Smarter Planet: The Next Leadership Agenda, 2008). This theory of decentralized system with enormous power of computing is not innovative (Kelly, 1995); however, by proposing a new meaning, providing relevant services and leading in the industry, IBM does help advance human’s mindset regarding a smarter planet (Service Science: Toward A Smarter Planet, 2009).


Norman, Donald A. 2002. The Design of Everyday Things . s.l. : Basic Books, 2002. 0465067107 .

A Smarter Planet: The Next Leadership Agenda. Palmisano, Samuel J. 2008. New York : The Council on Foreign Relations, 2008.

A Theory of Organization and Change within Value-Attitude Systems. Rokeach, M. 1968. 1, Michigan State University : Journal of social issues, 1968, Vol. xxiv.

About : Quotes. Raymond Loewy the father of industrial design. [Online]

Hofstede, Geert . 1997. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. s.l. : McGraw-Hill USA, 1997.

Kelley, Tom, Littman, Jonathan and Peters, Tom. 2011. The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. s.l. : Crown Business, 2011. 978-0385499842.

Kelly, Kevin. 1995. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World. s.l. : Basic Books, 1995. 978-0201483406.

Krippendorff , Klaus . 2005. The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design. s.l. : CRC Press, 2005. 0415322200.

Service Science: Toward A Smarter Planet. Spohrer, Jim and Maglio, Paul P. 2009. New York : Wiley, 2009.

Verganti, Roberto. 2009. Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean. s.l. : Harvard Business Press, 2009.

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