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Design as Communication

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julie Jupp.

Research Associate at the Engineering Design Centre

The concept of ‘design as communication’ has been a pervasive and recurring theme in design theory, practice and rhetoric. This perspective on design argues for the product to be considered as a ‘text’ that is written by designers and read by consumers. In these terms, designers have intentions for how products should be interpreted and they seek to generate designs that encourage this response. In turn, the consumer is exposed to and interacts with the product, forming their own interpretations. Whilst, to various extents, these interpretations may correspond with the designers’ intentions, they may also diverge from these intentions in many unanticipated ways. Although many design texts describe products as communicative media and design as a communicative act, these notions are rarely explored in detail. Instead, the analogy with communication has primarily been been used to provide a perspective on design that allows other issues to be addressed (often issues of consumer interpretation). Consequently, only limited reference is made to theories of communication or theories of media, and other design texts that exploit similar concepts are often neglected. By drawing an analogy between design and communication that is never fully explored, the conceptual foundations of much design thinking have escaped critical scrutiny. This presentation will address this issue by exploring the communication analogy in detail and drawing from the various fields that illuminate the relevant arguments. The focus will be on the field of industrial design, where the notion of design as communication is particularly prevalent. However, such concepts have been discussed across a wide variety of design disciplines, including architecture, software, fashion and graphics. In fact, the issues involved are relevant not only to design but to all creative activities that anticipate an interpretative user, audience or reader.

This talk is part of the Engineering Design Centre series.

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