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Design for meaning

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Problem Statement

With the increasing availability of affordable products, systems and services the attention of architects and designers is turning more-and-more to the properties of “experience” and “meaning”. Characteristics which are lower in the “Maslow Hierarchy of Needs” such as safety, functionality and comfort are increasingly seen as “minimum requirements” rather than areas which provide “competitive advantage”. Internationally, there is a growing awareness that design can no longer concentrate on functionality or even interaction, but must focus instead strongly on matters of “experience” and “meaning”. One approach is to conceive products, systems and services based on their intended meaning during the very first stage of the design process. Preliminary research has been performed to define the essential components of the “design for meaning” approach and a small number of artefacts have been the subject of “design for meaning”. Nevertheless, much of the basic machinery of “design for meaning” and most of the strengths and weaknesses of the approach still need to be explored and defined. Research is required to define formal methods for applying “design for meaning” in an efficient and economically viable manner. The proposed research will investigate the area of “design for meaning” and will focus strongly on the key issues of “categories of meaning”, “contextual constraints” and “existing versus new meanings”.

Programme of work

Literature review of the sources of human meaning (psychological, sociological and economic).
Literature review of the current state-of-the-art in “design for meaning”.
Development of detailed taxonomies under the umbrella categories of “function”, ritual” and “myth”.
Development of measurement scales under the umbrella categories of “function”, ritual” and “myth”.
Ethnographic activity to improve and extend the taxonomy of meaning in real world settings.
Testing of the measurement scales with a minimum of 20 individuals of varying gender, age and nationality.
Case history application of the “design for meaning” approach to an urban mobility system. - Comparison of the specifications which emerge for the urban mobility system via “design for meaning” to the specifications obtained via a traditional “ethnographic approach”..
Final reporting

The proposed research will substantially and decisively extend the knowledge of the issues involved in “design for meaning” and is expected to produce important clarifications regarding how, when and why the approach might be applied. The research will also provide a first comprehensive case history of the application of “design for meaning” to the real world context of urban mobility. Finally, the research will develop new evidence of the ability of “design for meaning” to enhance customer experience and to deepen customer loyalty.

How good is research at Brunel University London in Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 63.27

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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