The Emerging Semantics of Product Design
Tao Huang, PhD, IDSA, Assistant Professor | Columbia College Chicago
Kevin Henry, IDSA, Associate Professor | Columbia College Chicago
Sustainable design has evolved both in terms of sophistication and complexity. Part of that shift involves the expansion of green products from small batch production and hand-crafted objects using ready-made or recyclable materials into full blown mass-produced objects, which prompts the question: what does “Green Design” really mean and how do consumers understand it? The flip side of this coin is “Green Washing”, which poses challenges to the role of industrial design. In a world where novelty and marketing increasingly drive consumption, products must be able to communicate their “green-ness” directly to the consumer in an honest and palpable manner. How can designers manipulate form, color, material selection, energy consumption, and the perceived affordances of a product to convince all stakeholders of its “green” value beyond mere marketing or superficial appearances? Answers to these questions have great implications for design, marketing, and mass-production. Clearly, as new concepts of sustainable design emerge in design practice and public discourse, there is a need to update the theory of product semantics to reflect such large and dynamic changes.
To answer these questions, this paper provides a brief overview of product semantics from the past three decades and suggests ways to transform this critical theory. Using case studies, the authors analyze the new possibilities and challenges for eco expression facing the industrial design profession as it grapples with environmentalism. New concepts such as biommicry, dematerialization, service design, customization and their manifestations in products and thecontext and sub-context they create are explored.