Design Perceptions: why what something looks like matters to people

How we perceive objects, and what others perceive about us by our belongings, is rooted at the heart of our consumer culture and what we want to present to others as our identity.

“Every artefact reflects certain notions of what is tasteful, attractive or functional... If there are competing lifestyles…these lifestyles must have competing aesthetic sensibilities that enable members of a given lifestyle to determine what is proper and what isn’t proper for them.”(1)

As individuals, we long to show something of who we are and our lifestyle choices through what we own and use. “The products we purchase have major importance for their sign values and this may be more important, in many cases, than the functions of the products.” (1)

This is further shown by what people are willing to spend money on to achieve the appearance they desire. Krippendorf (2) says that “meaning has always played a central role in design.” He gives the example of someone spending a large amount of money on a Lamborghini to communicate the image they want to project to the public; the functionality of the car is subordinate to the lifestyle they want to associate themselves with. Another example is ladies’ high-heeled shoes, which are not suitable for walking any distance and damage feet. Yet because they look elegant, make legs appear longer and the wearer taller, are considered worth the pain for how they make the wearer feel and appear to others.

A more oppressive example which has thankfully died out in the last century is the practice of foot binding in China. As women’s small feet were a symbol of status and beauty, this was valued as more important than the lasting mobility and health problems that resulted. Corsets in Europe could also be damaging but were again a part of the fashion, and so semantics wins out over functionality.

This demonstrates that we as humans do care about the appearance of what we wear and own, and so aesthetics are an important part of the design process. When designing Band-it, this was an important consideration. Rather than merely designing a functional product, appearance and appeal to different senses were also taken into account. The hope is that with the different bright colours this is a product that does naturally draw attention to itself but is something that someone is happy to have on display because it looks good.

References 

1 BERGER, Arthur Asa. 2010. The Objects of Affection: Semiotics and Consumer Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

2 KRIPPENDORFF, Klaus. 2006. The Semantic Turn. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

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