design and cultures 2 home

As mentioned last week, the remaining topics will only be dealt with in a very brief way. You will be studying them in much more detail next year.

Product Semantics

"Any product and any design can be analyzed from a semiotic point of view. In other words: design language exists. Languages have a lexicon, a grammar and a semantics and design language is no exception, the big difference though is that each product, or group of similar products, seems to have its own language. All languages use signs to realize actual, pragmatic, communication and the analysis of these signs, or semiotics, becomes more and more the focus of the philosophy of language." geocities.com/msslkc/theory.html

"The present article examines some aspects of the relationship between form and meaning in artefacts. Exactly how do objects of art and design express ideas through their appearance, shape and use? The category of object fetishism is defined and analysed as a key to understanding such processes of signification. This category is subsequently applied to existing debates on product semantics, suggesting that many usual assumptions about form and meaning need to be re-examined in light of new conceptions of product life cycle and post-use". Rafael Cardoso, waspress.co.uk/journals/artontheline/journal_20041/articles/pdf/20041_02.pdf

"Relationships form the basis of almost all semiotic communication. These can be:
  • Relationships to external objects (i.e., The texturing on a grip might reference the hand thereby indicating how the product should be held),
  • Relationships to cultural precedents (i.e., The shape resembles a handle thereby expressing a place for the hand). Here the cultural precedent becomes a symbol (i.e., a sign referring to something other than itself)
  • A relationship to the surrounding environment (e.g., the chair-legs express their relationship to the floor, thereby making the chair more chair-like, communicating stability, cueing orientation)
  • Relationships between different parts of the product (i.e. A clear mating relationship between a device and its charging stand obviates their functional connection) These relationships could also be hierarchical (e.g., buttons on a blender)
  • Relationships to actions of its use – How the form illustrates the dynamic aspects of the product, how it moves (i.e. Apple PowerBook). This type of relationship expresses more than just about mechanical logic, the form must also express and inspire the gesture of its use
  • Relationship between the button and the result. Showing how the user’s physical manipulations affect the product’s internal state (on/off switches, volume control, etc.)
  • Relationships to other objects (these can be metaphoric, symbolic, or iconographic), or
  • Relationships to periods or styles.
The user’s mental model of a product is a dynamically binding and associative set of relationships. These relationships are:


Green Design and Ecologically Concerned Architecture

Green design in engineering is an umbrella term describing the various techniques used in prioritizing environmental considerations through the various design stages of a product or system, with the objective of conserving or minimising any damage to the environment. All products have some environmental impact, though some products use more resources, cause more pollution or generate more waste than others. Consequently the objective of green design is to identify those which cause least damage.

The fundamental principles of green design in engineering focus on using products with recyclable materials and recycled content, utilizing least toxic materials and manufacturing processes, minimizing or designing away the extraneous and designing for durability and longevity.

The key components of green design are summarised below:

  • Integrate design aspects for multiplicity of function;
  • Design for durability and longevity - think about the unintended consequences of maintenance and renewal;
  • Select materials that use their base resource most efficiently;
  • Value long-term benefits over short-term profits;
  • Can renewable energy sources be used?
  • Use products with recyclable materials and recycled content;
  • Reduce, reuse, recover and recycle.
ecospecifier - "the extensive database, decision making guide, project case-studies and training documents to assist eco-design" (Australian! Sponsored by RMIT). ecospecifier.org

Society for Responsible Design - Aussie association with practical suggestions of ways that designers can make a difference. green.net.au/srd/

Centre for Design (RMIT) aim "to conduct an integrated program of interdisciplinary research, consulting & professional development to promote and demonstrate the role of design and innovation in achieving an environmentally sustainable future for Australia". cfd.rmit.edu.au

The EcoDesign Foundation includes the Design for Sustainability Guide by Ezio Manzini, an excellent online resource: edf.edu.au/DfSGuideWebsite/Guide/GuideFrameset.htm

ChangeX - a cross-campus student exhibition of design works which address issues of social responsibility and sustainability. edf.edu.au/Changex/index.html

An Australian government document from 2001 "Product Innovation The Green Advantage - An Introduction to Design for Environment for Australian Business" gives some practical suggestions: deh.gov.au/industry/finance/publications/producer.html

Eternally Yours organisation encourages designers to create products with a useful life of at least 10 years. There's a 130 page book on sustainable product development you can download from their site, too. eternally-yours.org

Australian Environmental Labelling Association: aela.org.au/aela/home.htm

One of the examples shown in one of the videos we're watching is the Southcorp Dishlex Global Dishwasher: designawards.com.au/ADA/97-98/INDUSTRIAL DESIGN/084/084.HTM

Transform Australia: New enviro-friendly paper product source being developed commerically in Australia - from banana trees, which were previously considered waste. I saw an excellent brief doco on this between programs on the ABC (or SBS?) recently, looks like it has awesome potential if they can break into the mainstream. transformaustralia.com.au

Perth Zoo/UWA Homestead Project

Biomorphic and Biodesign

From Da Vinci's flying machines to Gaudi's catherdral buttresses based on human tendons, designers have long looked to nature for inspiration. In the 1990's, as a backlash against the genericism of Modernism and it's emphasis on clean, stark lines, a new emphasis on organic forms developed.

Luigi Colani

The 1990's marked an era of usability, honesty and environmental concern; consumers were becoming more technologically sophisticated. Capitalizing on these occurrences is what is known as 'biodesign', fore fronted by designer Luigi Colani and the Canon Camera. Biodesign's rounded, more organic shapes and stylings lent itself to greater usability, less resistance and greater harmony with nature. Biodesign can be seen in everything from vacuum cleaners to iMacs". people.bu.edu/burbank/pdf_downloads/PrdDsgn_Sample.pdf

"Nature is the starting point. This is the central concept in Prof. Luigi Colani`s philosophy of bio-dynamics. Colani, who gains much of his inspiration from nature, stresses that his designs consist of shapes based on the creations of nature: "I do not more than imitate the truths revealed to me by nature!" colani.ch/english.htm


Sori Yanagi - Japanese designer of the classic "Butterfly stool"


Ross Lovegrove

His official site is very postmodern. Or perhaps it's modernist minimalism? www.rosslovegrove.com

For better or worse, he'll probably always be known as the iMac Man, although other designers such as Jonathan Ive were also responsible for that project.

Other suggested links for biomorphic design and architecture:


retrokat.com quite nice sites

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