University of Calgary

Understanding Product Aesthetics from the Perspective of Product Semantics

Submitted by jwalla on Fri, 2012/01/06 - 12:04pm.

The aesthetic appreciation of a product is concerned with the human senses, and the corresponding responses towards a product. Through the human senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, information which resides in the material world is received via the correlated receptors located throughout the human body. The received information will then undergoes transduction, a process in which the received raw data are transformed into a type of language the human brain understands. Thereafter, the information will be sent to the brain for neural– processing. The processing of the information is one of the most crucial steps in the appreciation of aesthetics, which can be broken down into bottom-up processing and top-down processing. These two notions of processing differed in the types of information utilizes for neural processing and derives from the model of aesthetic experience constructed by Leder et al. (2004).

For bottom-up processing, only the information which resides in the material world is utilized. In contrast, for top-down processing, information that is pre-acquired, thus stored in the human brain is used. Both types of processing will contribute to the aesthetic appreciation of a product, hence the user response towards a product – emotion and judgement. By proposing a new perspective on product aesthetics, a deeper understanding of the appreciation of products can be achieved.

To investigate this ideas in details, product semantics which depends on the attained information stored in the human brain for product analysis, will be used as an example in the discussion of top-down processing of aesthetic appreciation. In addition, several examples using existing products available on the market, and projects designed by the writers will also be examined.

Semantics is the study of meaning and signs. Product semantics came about in the 1980’s, in part, in reaction to the homogeneous neutrality which typifies the modernist’s functional buildings. Semantic expressions, from a historical perspective, could be looked upon as a move away from the blandness of conventional functionalism, which emphasizes practicality through the simplicity of forms. But the meaning of function has shifted, from function defined by the product to function defined by users’ need. The maxim of the semantic movement would be “form expresses function or concept”.

The range of meanings designers embed in products covers the full gamut of human perspective. For instance a product can respond to a specific culture, such as punks, in which the design is responding to their needs and aesthetic characteristics. As with poetry, often the most expressive and emotive use of semantics in product design lies in ambiguity, multiple meanings, and mixed metaphors.

by Senior Instructor Denis Gadbois and EVDS student Catherine Lee

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