Form, Meaning, and Behavior (RE: Patri archs of the Design Family)

20 Nov 2003 - 5:52pm
1124 reads
Robert Reimann

Terrific points, Kristoffer (and I agree that for
design of interactive devices, ID and IxD must work

Meaning does, I think, have a close relationship
to behavior, because meanings of actions as well
as meanings of presented information/objects must be
interpreted by users. Research by Clifford Nass and
Byron Reeves chronicled in _The Media Equation_
suggests that people may naturally (but subconsciously)
interpret the actions of interactive systems in
anthropomorphic terms-- in other words, as if they
were performed by human-like intelligences. Thus,
the nuances of behavior, the manner in which
functions are rendered as actions and objects, may have
second order effects relating not only to mental models
of objects and expectations of function, but emotional
responses that arise from expectations of appropriate
social dialogue within a given cultural context.

It's perhaps easy to get overblown with theory here,
but the bottom line is that unpleasant behavior in
products results in angry, frustrated users, whereas
pleasant behavior (e.g., purposeful, elegant, and socially
appropriate) results in loyal and devoted users-- particularly
when accompanied/embodied by a compelling form. Behavior, like
form, has both a cognitive and an emotive component whose
meanings must be interpreted by those who experience it, and
the nuances of which are ignored at some peril.


-----Original Message-----
From: Kristoffer Åberg [mailto:kristoffer.aberg at]
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2003 2:29 PM
To: discuss at
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Patriarchs of the Design Family

A very interesting discussion I must say. I came to think of a paper
presented at DIS 2002, "Form is Function" by Bosse Westerlund, downloadable

"A designer usually intends an artefact to have some function(s). This
influences the way (s)he designs the artefact and chooses to shape its form
in such a way that it gives the user clues to the intended functions. Doing
so the form itself becomes an intended function...The user is influenced by
the form of the artifact, as well as its other properties. A user may or may
not use the artefact for the same functions as were intended in the first
place. But if (s)he uses the artefact for its intended functions, the form
has probably helped. Then the form is a function to the user as well."

In addition to form and function the paper also deals with the *meanings*
users acquire from dealing with artefacts; taking the cue from Robert I
think meaning has close relationship to behaviour, partly due to having read
another interesting piece of literature, Paul Dourish's "Where the Action
Is" ( Maybe I'm running off on a tangent
here; some bedside reading for the interested, for what its worth.

Perpetually exploring my professional relationship with my industrial
designer colleagues I would side with Coryndon - the future of interaction
design and industrial design are one, at least in the domains I'm active in,
mobile and ubiquitous computing (I'd love to hear your thoughts on that!).
Whether this means "über designers" mastering both interaction design and
industrial design, a focus on either interaction design or industrial design
but with some skills from the other discipline, or inter-disciplinary
collaboration will be interesting to see (I have personal experience only
from the latter two...yet). But in the meantime I'm trying to improve my
visualization skills, building furniture and the like, to get a better sense
of form, all in order to facilitate discussion and collaboration with
industrial designers. And to educate them about interaction and behaviour,
wherever needed...


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