What is product semantics and why is it important?

Product semantics was defined by Klaus Krippendorff and Reinhart Butter as, “the study of the symbolic qualities of man-made forms in the context of their use and the application of this knowledge to industrial design.” By symbolic qualities, they are referring to the psychological, social and cultural context of a product, as opposed to only considering a product’s physical and physiological functions. This blog post serves to highlight the main points of their article, Product Semantics: Exploring the Symbolic Qualities of Form, which was published in the journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America in 1984.

  • An object's form says three things:
    1. Something about the object itself
    2. Something about the larger context of its use
    3. Something about the user who interacts with it and develops a conceptual connection.

    For example, when looking at a remote control, certain buttons will be recognized as “push buttons”, and therefore suggest that you “push them”. The button’s shape, location on the remote, and label can suggest what the consequence of pushing it will have. On my tv remote, I recognize the power button by the semantic meaning of the icon, the red color, it being the only round button, and its top location on the remote.
     
  • Communication (of product semantics) between a designer and a user cannot be described as linear because objects gain meaning through user interaction and their individual interpretations. As such, designers could be seen as contributing communicator.

    There are four channels that meanings relevant to product design can be communicated:
    1. Information Displays (ex. the interface of the Vantage Panoramic X-ray)
    2. Graphic elements or two-dimensional markers (ex. the buttons (icons, shape, color) on the Suretrace Circuit Tracer)
    3. A products form, shape and texture (ex. the symbolic (and easily recognized) form of the Durathon Steam Iron)
    4. Indications of a product’s internal states (ex. the indicators surrounding the Weber Spirit grill’s control knobs)
  • Krippendorff and Butter identified four main opportunities for error when designing without respect for product semantics:
    1. Designing a product unidentifiable by users.
    2. Designing a product that does not promote manipulating it in the proper way. For example, if the location and type of controls placed on a panel are not logical in terms of the user’s mental model of the object.
    3. Designing a product that lacks transparency and limits user exploration (non-harmful). Simply put, designing a product that makes you read a detailed manual to figure out, rather than using your own curiosity to explore its possibilities.
    4. Designing a product that does not fit into the symbolic environment it will exist within.

I have always been fascinated with the impact “bad design” can have to a user. While the 4 points above seem obvious, it can be easy to ignore 1 while focusing on the others. While not all product design has extreme repercussions, designers should always design products to the highest standard for the users. I had a professor that would always say, “People are stupid, consider that when designing each aspect of a product.” While this is an exaggeration, do we really want people to have to think hard to use a product? Do they want to? And what if they can’t use any previous knowledges to influence their ability to use said object? When the stakes are high, product semantics can make or break an object's success.

Source: Krippendorff, K., & Butter, R (1984). Product semantics: Exploring the symbolic qualities of form. Innovation, 3(2), 4-9. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/40

Lindsay Schultz
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.
6/2/17

Inclusive Design

The inclusive design philosophy is important because the intention is not to have many different product variations as a result of user disabilities, or lack thereof. Rather, the objective is to gain a knowledge of user diversity and to design products that respond to as many of their difficulties as appropriate.

The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as: 'The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.' This definition is important because it supports the fact that inclusive design is NOT designing for disabilities. As discussed in Human Factors in Product Design: Current Practice and Future Trends, the inclusive design approach can eliminate some of the social stigma associated with products used by the disabled. If you are looking to learn more about designing for disabilities, I highly recommend reading Graham Pullin’s book, Design Meets Disability.

OXO Good Grips is a great example of products designed for inclusivity. Sam Farber, the founder of OXO, began his journey of changing the kitchen utensil market after observing his wife struggle with kitchen tools due to her arthritis. The gold standard for inclusive design that the OXO Good Grip brand represents is that each design brings additional value to all parties; the tool heightens comfort for everyone while simultaneously alleviating the difficulties from users with limited dexterity. These products are not designed for a specific disability; the design is a reflection of a diverse range of users with many different abilities from which a solution can positively improve the experience for all.

A quick thing to note is that on the OXO website, their design philosophy is referred to as universal design. While often used synonymously, the inclusive design research centre at OCAD University has identified the similarities and distinctions between Inclusive and Universal Design methods. They summarized the two similar factors of these design methods so well, it is worth repeating…

The common notions between universal and inclusive design are:

  1. Designing systems so they work for people with disabilities results in systems that work better for everyone.
  2. Segregated, specialized design is not sustainable and does not serve the individual or society in the long run.

Want to learn more about inclusive design? I would recommend looking through two different design toolkits that include an in-depth look at the design principles and processes of inclusive design:

  1. Inclusive: A Microsoft design toolkit

  2. Inclusive Design Toolkit, developed by the inclusive design team at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre
     

Sources:
1. Green, William, and Patrick W. Jordan. Human Factors in Product Design Current Practice and Future Trends. Illustrated, Reprint ed.: CRC, 1999. Print.
2. "What Is Inclusive Design." Inclusive Design Research Centre. OCAD University, Web. <http://idrc.ocadu.ca/about-the-idrc/49-resources/online-resources/articles-and-papers/443-whatisinclusivedesign>.


Lindsay Schultz
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.
5/19/2017

 

Pinterest for Designers

Pinterest-for-Designers-banner

Pinterest, the image-based social network, is not exclusively for those of the DIY and crafting variety. I have found that the benefits of using Pinterest are often overlooked in a professional design setting. Pinterest is an invaluable tool in my designer toolbox! Whether or not you are already using Pinterest, read through these 3 tips on how to optimize your pinning for your design process.

  1. Download the Pinterest browser button
    Adding the Pinterest button to your browser’s toolbar is a quick way to positively influence your pinning habits. For people that do not usually go on Pinterest for design inspiration, this can be a nice middle ground; you benefit from the same visual bookmarking tools while still roaming through your other favorite sources for inspiration.
  2. Pin to a secret board
    If you are searching for inspiration on a project at work, you most likely will not want your pins broadcasted to the masses. Enter the Secret Pinterest Board. This feature enables you to make any new board a secret, which opens up the opportunity to utilize the bookmarking tool sans the public broadcasting. Simply put, any activity within your secret boards will not be published. Another great feature of secret boards is that you can invite others - co-workers, for example - to collaborate with you, whilst maintaining the boards secrecy. Warning: once a board is made public, it cannot be switched to private.
  3. Don't overlook the benefits of a description
    It is very easy spend hours scouring the internet for product inspiration. A designer might spend quality time searching for innovative applications for details like product handles or buttons. Between the action of discovering an image and pinning it to a board, there is a spark, a meaning behind choosing to pin that particular image for that particular product search. I would advise you to make a note of your reasoning in the pin description field. This is especially useful when you are sharing your board with teammates; a small detail that was very striking to you may be overlooked by others. It is also a great reference for yourself when you begin the process of looking through your pins and digesting your findings. Note: I find this tip to be most relevant on secret boards. For public pins, consider using detailed and keyword-rich descriptions like buffer recommends.

 

    Lindsay Schultz
    Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.
    5/11/2017

    History of Industrial Design

    When looking for a clear picture of the History of Industrial Design, I found a lot of nuggets of information, but never a full picture. I have put together the information I had collected from these many sites, creating a more cohesive timeline.

    1760-1840
    The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain, introduced a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production.

    1851
    During the Great Exhibition held in Britain, Europe was introduced to America’s developments of modern industrial mass production and functionalism.

    1853
    The Practical Draughtsman's Book of Industrial Design by Jacques-Eugène Armengaud was printed. The Subtitle states that it wants to offer “complete course of mechanical, engineering, and architectural drawing.”

    Early 1900s
    Concepts such as efficiency, standardization and functionality became popular.

    1907
    Deutscher Werkbund, focused on the integration of traditional crafts and industrial mass-produced techniques, was founded. (Precursor to Bauhaus)

    1918
    After World War 1, the USA experienced rapid technological growth and industrial development.

    1919
    The first use of the term "industrial design" is attributed to the New Zealand designer Joseph Claude Sinel.

    1920-1930
    Industrial Designers start mass-producing goods like automobiles, trains and electrical appliances.

    1926
    Walter Dorwin Teague created the first design offices.

    1930-1950
    The Great Depression forces industrial designers to make their production methods more efficient and cost effective.

    1934
    Herbert Read proclaimed the first and the most important principle of industrial design: A factory should conform to the personality of an artist but not vice versa.

    1934
    Robert Lepper helped establish one of the country’s first industrial design degree programs at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

    1940s-1960s
    The idolization of technology, progress and modernity was a represented and explored through design techniques such as Streamlining (styling a form to express speed and movement).

    1950s-1960s
    Populuxe (combination of popular and luxury) was coined by Thomas Hine to express the consumer culture and aesthetic popular during this period in the United States.

    1951
    A product design section was established at Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., said to be the first in-house design organization in Japan. This was created by Konosuke Matsushita on his return to Japan following a visit to the United States.

    1965
    When the American Society of Industrial Design (ASID merged with the Industrial Designers Institute and the Industrial Design Education Association to form the IDSA.   

    1980s
    Post-modernist movement embraced the influence of color and experience. Robert Venturi is known for coining the term “Less is a bore”, a post-modernist response to Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more”.

    1980s-2000s
    Advances in computing and the rise of the Internet helps the Industrial Design profession push forward.

    1982
    The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) created the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI). Shortly after, the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) emerged as a recognized sub-discipline of computer science.

    2015
    The Professional Practice Committee presented a updated definition of industrial design: "Industrial Design is a strategic problem-solving process that drives innovation, builds business success and leads to a better quality of life through innovative products, systems, services and experiences." 

    Lindsay Schultz
    Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.
    4/28/2017

    Types of Prototypes

    types of prototypes

    CHOi Design utilizes prototypes at each stage of the design process. As defined by wikipedia, A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. Another way to look at characterizing a prototype is to think of it as a portrayal of a design idea.

    In the article, What do Prototypes Prototype?, Stephanie Houde and Charles Hill expand on their observations that the term “prototype” has different meanings to different disciplines. Thus a prototype can exist in many different forms, some looking market ready while others simple foam or clay forms. No matter what the appearances may suggest, each of these prototypes has an important purpose and may prove to be pivotal in a product’s success.

    To stay consistent with the terminology, as defined by Houde and Hill, I will use artifact in reference to the object or system being designed. I will also apply the 3 aspects they defined as the dimensions of a prototype: role (the function served for a user), look and feel (sensory experience), and Implementation (functional components). Every prototype helps a designer interpret and iterate on at least one of these dimensions.

    As we have established that there are numerous different types of prototypes for the many industries and designers, I want to highlight some of the prototype forms that Industrial Designers most often put to use.

    Storyboards
    While not a 3D model, Storyboards are great prototypes for exploring the “Role” dimension. Often illustrating a user’s interaction with the artifact, a storyboard is a great tool for focusing attention on the identify of the artifact within an environment and the target role it serves the user. The appearance or details of the artifact within these storyboards is not important, all that is necessary is for the general form to exist within the situation you are illustrating.

    Visual Prototype
    This type of prototype serves to explore the “look and feel” dimension. Having the appearance of the artifact, designers can use these models to examine shape and size. While it will have the physical representation of the artifact, these models are rarely functional. Sometimes referred to as appearance models or mock-ups, it can be beneficial to both designers and their clients to see a design concept in it’s physical form.

    Proof-of-Concept
    Proof-of-Concept prototypes explore the “Implementation” dimension. This form of model will demonstrate how the product works, providing functional validation. This will not be a perfect and pretty model; components will often be chosen based on price and accessibility, utilizing simple fabrication to communicate the artifacts potential.

    Presentation Prototype
    A presentation prototype explores the look and feel as well as the implementation dimension. This model is one of the closest representations of the final artifact; it will often be made from production grade or closely comparable materials and include the artifact's functionality, albeit a mix of bespoke and ‘off-the-shelf’ components. Presentation prototypes are often used for promotional purposes, to show product viability prior to manufacturing, and to help designers license their artifacts to manufactures.

    For further information on the types of prototypes, I recommend reading the article I referenced at the beginning of this post: What do Prototypes Prototype?, by Stephanie House and Charles Hill.

    Lindsay Schultz
    Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.
    04/20/2017

    2017 International Home + Housewares Show: Trends and Discoveries

    Now that we all have had some time to recuperate after an amazing and exhausting 4 days at the 2017 International Home and Housewares Show, I wanted to share a few of our findings here at CHOi Design. First of all, WOW! We saw some really amazing products, inspiring in both form and function. For this article I am going to focus on the Wired + Well expo, which featured kitchen, household and personal care electronics. 

    Discovery
    Have you ever heard of a Vacuum Blender? I hadn’t either! According to Kuvings, the vacuum blender removes air from the container prior to the start of the blending process, maximizing the nutritional value of the beverage. And while it isn’t a vacuum, I was drawn to the auto blend feature that automatically stops blending when the food has reached the optimal amount of blending.

    Kuvings Vacuum Blender

    image credit: kuvings.com


    Discovery
    My friends and family laughed as I recounted the interesting products I saw at the show. Why would that be funny? Because I am a TERRIBLE cook! My saving grace so far has been cooking blogs with simple recipes and LOTS of pictures. This is precisely why I was so excited about this next discovery: the Hestan Cue. This is a smart cooking system that integrates an induction burner, recipe app and smart cookware, which all work together through Bluetooth technology to make your cooking experience fool proof. Worrying about timing and temperature is no longer a concern, since the Hestan Cue will control this for you. 

    Hestan Cue Precision Cooker

    image credit: Jenny McGrath / Digital Trends

    Trend
    There was an abundance of exhibitors showcasing their one-pot cookers. Stemming from the classic slow cookers, these multi cookers increase functionality by integrating features for pressure cooking, slow cook, steam, brown and saute. If you want to know a bit more about individual models from the show, take a look at this multicooker article from reviewed.com.

    Yedi 7 In 1 Mult Functional Pressure Cooker
    Fagor Multi Cooker

    (left) image credit: Reviewed.com / Kori Perten (right) image credit: yedipressurecooker.com


    Trend
    Coffee Coffee Coffee! Digital Trends created a roundup of cool coffee devices from the show that demonstrates this trend very well.

    Dash Rapid Cold Brew Coffee Maker

    image credit: Jenny McGrath / Digital Trends

    I’ve kept to a kitchen theme today, but there were so many other amazing innovative products being displayed at the show. Make sure to take a look at the links I’ve included in the article for more Insights on the show!

    Lindsay Schultz
    Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.

    UX vs. UI Designers: who does what?

    Ux vs UI Graphic

    While UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) go hand-in-hand for a successful product, the roles of the two design disciplines are very different. Don Norman, the cognitive scientist that coined the term UX in the early 1990’s, wrote a more recent article in which he highlights the blurred lines and interdependence between these fields:

    “True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company's offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

    That being said, there are distinct responsibilities and expertise involved that distinguish one profession from the other.  UX designers focus on how the product feels. They approach a project in an analytical manner, the main concern being that the product logically flows through each point in an interaction. To achieve this outcome, UX designers utilize user research, personas, usability testing, wireframes, and information architecture.

    UI designers are responsible for creating a graphic layout that visually communicates the path created by a UX designer. Color, typography, interactive element placement, and brand language are all critical components to UI designers, but there is also involvement with developers and code.

    The roles of the UX and UI designer can vary from place to place, even overlapping in some instances to create a “hybrid” UX/UI role. The responsibilities of these disciplines are also found under different titles; for example, the term “web designer” is often used define UI designers that can code. Rule of thumb, don’t decide on a designer by their title, but rather by the compatibility of their skills and a projects needs.

    CHOi Design
    03/03/2017