Designing for Meaningfulness in Future Smart Products: an explorative investigation of values and physical characteristics

Vanessa Carpenter

Publikation: Ph.d.-afhandling

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Companies developing new “smart”consumer products with embedded technology face an unprecedented availability of sensors, actuators, and inexpensive electronics with which to bring their products to life today. In this context, the rise of so many “smart products” have emerged as the norm on the market, such as a smart hair brush which informs about the health of one’s hair, various smart water bottles which monitor how much water you have had to drink and when, and internet connected daily devices such as refrigerators and toothbrushes. While an increasing number of companies have begun to incorporate user centred design approaches when creating smart products and services, there is little in the way of critical reflection about what types of products are being brought to market, and why they are needed.

This dissertation aims to address this phenomenon by investigating the area of “Designing for Meaningfulness” and introducing potential parameters to help practitioners explore the concept of meaningfulness and how one might design for it. The research includes both a value based investigation of the Mechanics of Meaningfulness and a look at the physical characteristics of products which may enable meaningful experiences, the Manifestations of Meaningfulness. These point to possible parameters which designers and companies can use as starting points for ideating and evaluating their products or services in terms of designing for three scenarios:

People-to-people connections
A person to their sense-of-self

Each of these scenarios is presented as takeaways in this dissertation, utilizing annotated portfolios as a way to compare and contrast the work done and to extract the takeaways for future researchers.

This work utilizes a programmatic approach to research through design as a methodology, creating seven engagements which take the form of early electronic sketches. The knowledge gained from the creation and evaluation of these early sketches act as a vehicle for this research, exploring and exemplying the potential properties of designing for meaningfulness, namely the Mechanics and Manifestations of Meaningfulness.

The research which informed the creation of the Mechanics and Manifestations of Meaningfulness is split into three segments. First,, prior work is briefly examined to provide the groundwork for initial thoughts about designing for meaningfulness. Next, the seven engagements created as part of this research are presented and the qualities of meaningfulness are exemplified through these. Finally, research collaborations are done with companies in the form of interviews, seminars and workshops, where the attitudes towards designing for meaningfulness are gathered, and the relevancy for industry practitioners is explored.

This work, while based in industry via six years of developing smart products, is significantly informed by and compared to academic research which implicitly, but not often explicitly, refers to meaningfulness as a design goal. Every aspect of this work, except the past projects, relates back to academic research and examines how other researchers have approached the topic, highlighting where gaps exist and where the opportunity for designing for meaningfulness emerges. It concludes by suggesting that Metrics of Meaningfulness can and should be created, evaluated, and standardized to offer a tool to industry and academia to utilize while ideating (if designing a new product) or evaluating an existing product.
  • Overholt, Daniel, Hovedvejleder
  • Serafin, Stefania, Bivejleder
Eksterne samarbejdspartnere
UdgivelsesstedAalborg, Denmark
ISBN'er, elektronisk978-87-7210-350-1
StatusUdgivet - 2019

Bibliografisk note

PhD supervisor: Associate Prof. Dan Overholt, Aalborg University
Assistant PhD supervisor: Prof. Stefania Serafin, Aalborg University
Done in collaboration with IdemoLab, FORCE Technology


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