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Rotterdam: Publishers - As we become versed in the strategies of advertising, we are less liable to be swayed by the narratives they present. Hence the everyday experience of using products becomes more important in determining their relevance to us. As their newness fades and they become part of our everyday lives, we discover their true colours. Those that remain tolerable company — like people — will be retained, and relationships allowed to develop.

Over time they may come to be regarded as having a special place among our possessions. It is these products that are most commonly repaired rather than disposed of — as we repay their service by extending their life. Sadly, the economy of repair is often false, with items costing more to repair than to replace. Worse still, repair in many cases has ceased to be offered at all outside of guarantee periods.

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Even if you are not a member, if you own a product that has a visible owners club, the collective appreciation it represents has a value that rubs off. By contrast, their value emerges largely by personal association — based upon the memories of the activities undertaken in the place to which they refer — and is determined to a lesser extent by the intrinsic qualities of the objects themselves.

However, it could be argued that the sense of utility apparent in the originals has been somewhat lost in translation. Objects converge or disappear into software the mobile phone has swallowed the music player, diary, watch, calculator, hand-held video-game and, with the arrival of Internet-enabled mobiles, encyclopaedias, maps and a lot more besides.

Products become embedded in services where we hire rather than own them. Here the infrastructure that surrounds the product gives us value — we no longer have the burden of storing, maintaining and upgrading them. New York: Princeton Architectural Press [8. Knowledge of a number of sales at a similar price provides a collective notion of what something is worth.

Different kinds of selling determine price in various ways. The retail price displayed in shops is based on what the retailer bought the product for the wholesale price , plus their mark-up. The wholesale price is based upon what the item cost the manufacturer to make the cost price , plus their mark-up. If the product is sold through a distributor, another layer of marking-up will occur. Whether for high-priced artworks and antiques, or for inexpensive items sold over the Internet, price is set locally by those taking part in the auction one phenomenon of online auctioning is the ability to see what a huge number of second-hand objects might be worth — information that was previously hard to determine.

Thinking: objects: contemporary approaches to product design

The seller decides the minimum for which they are willing to sell the item by setting a reserve price. Bidders will then express how much they feel it is worth. Publicity of the value of the winning bid affects the wider collective notion of the value of that object and those similar to it. Auctions may sell items for many times their previously perceived value or a fraction of it, raising or lowering their expected value at subsequent auctions. Hence, the value of an object may be dramatically affected by the changing desires of a small number of collectors.

The new breed of design-artists have fully embraced this new technology rather than shying away from it, using it to manufacture spectacular one-offs — a state of affairs that could hardly be further from the social project of harnessing production methods to provide quality goods for all.

Products communicate to us through visual language. Like spoken and written words and sentences, this language can be split into units and studied.

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On their own these signs would be meaningless. They only become comprehensible when compared with other signs within a system. It is a field of which few product designers are fully aware, yet it is one that all, to some degree, operate within. Stockholm: Royal Institute of Technology [2. London: Vintage Random House [4. Although emerging from the study of language linguistics , semiotics has come to provide the theoretical underpinning for art and design. Since Barthes, Jean Baudrillard has been the most celebrated theorist working on the analysis of products as signs. Its totemic stature and riotous coloured laminates still polarise opinion.

In: Silva, H. Seeing a picture of a cup is a different experience. How we see signs — the means by which they are delivered — has an effect on our interpretation of them. When looking at a product, we experience both the sign, and the object to which the sign refers.

In terms of objects, these can be described as follows: denotation covers the literal reading of it and includes recognition of the object and anything it literally reminds us of, how it should be used, and how it may be misused see pages 39— This includes what its form, material, construction, colour and texture might remind us of beyond the literal. This includes what social and cultural associations they suggest. Finally, myth concerns the beliefs surrounding the object.

These may include stories surrounding its creation, who may have owned it or others like it, and what it has been used for. Myths are also created or perpetuated by advertising and may or may not contain an element of truth.

‘Thinking: Objects - Contemporary Approaches to Product Design’ by Tim Parsons | DeTnk

For example, the popular Moleskine notebook comes with a small text containing information about the famous writers and artists who previously used them, said to include Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and Hemingway. Yet the company that currently produces them has no direct link other than producing an identical-looking notebook with a manufacturer who would have produced the books used by these famous individuals.

The notebooks sell at a higher price than their competitors thanks to this apparent provenance. A product is a sign, but the features of that product and its individual components and, in turn, their features are also signs. We access the meaning of signs by comparing them to other signs within the same system. Consequently, if a sign changes, this has a knock-on effect on the meaning of other signs. If we see the same product for sale in a high-end retailer and subsequently, a budget retailer, the perceived value Fig.

The diagram implies that adding or removing a syntagem from an existing paradigm can create a new one. Our senses or prior knowledge tell us when two signs are the same, completely different or different examples of the same type. The most explicit example of artists and designers intentionally cutting down their palette of formal options was the work of the Dutch De Stijl movement. Only its angled seat and back deviate from the grid of horizontal and vertical black or primary coloured elements — a small concession towards use. We are also aware of a set of icons that denote object types.

The most common ones that appear on public signage can bear little or no resemblance to the actual devices to which they refer. This is because although these icons evolve, they often do so more slowly than the products they signify. For example, the icon used to denote the telephone is still modelled on the layout designed by Fig. Henry Dreyfuss in , despite both public and private telephones changing their form substantially since.

The icon chosen to represent the roadside speed camera in the UK was out of date as soon as it was introduced. However, such is the tight hold of marketing upon the design of many products that boldness is often downplayed and blandness prevails. On the other, in their desire to reinvent and innovate, they are in danger of overestimating consumer understanding and changing the fundamental signs that allow us to recognise products.

But if you push the extraordinary at the expense of marketability you would have to close up shop. A product has to appear close enough to what the buyer is expecting for them to feel comfortable that they are looking at the right object. If the product sits outside of this framework of the ordinary, recognition is under threat.

Once the boundaries of that framework are understood, the designers can work on ideas that will be appealing without breaking out from it. Sadly, much product design fails to deliver anything of value, even within the framework of the ordinary. Designers at Industrial Facility Fig. Instead of its form following function, it follows understanding through the collective memory of the archetype. Knobs are for turning.

Slots are for inserting things into. For example, the pressing of a button that sends an electronic pulse around a circuit board requires visible or audible feedback to register that our command has been actioned. In: Fukasawa, N.

About Thinking: Objects: Contemporary Approaches to Product Design

London: Phaidon [ New York: Anchor Books - Fig. When we are looking for a solution to a problem presented by our daily activities, we look at the forms around us and see if they afford us an answer.


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The cables offer themselves as a newspaper holder. A shopping basket is appropriated to become a bicycle basket, a torch is taped on for lighting and a plastic bottle is fashioned into a mudguard. These latter three examples are more purposeful than simply discovering and misusing what was already there, requiring the appropriation of another object.

This highlights the potential of objects themselves to inspire designers. All the examples display the observation of objects, consideration of their properties, and a projection of their possible uses — the three most essential tools of a design education. The fact that much design activity comprises of choosing from catalogues of existing components, rather than shaping them anew, is often overlooked.

There is, after all, no point in reinventing the wheel. The same rigour that goes into considering form, structure, use, meaning etc. Both at home and in the factory, when resources are tight, improvisation increases. It presents improvisation as 1. By shunning bureaucratic organisations and the red tape they create, change, they say, can be wrought through direct action. In: Golding Dr. In: Ashton, D.

A Selection of Views. Improvisation has its aesthetic qualities and these have been used variously to contrast opulence and express dissent. Surrealist art and the youth cultures of hippies and punks are just a few examples.