Understanding of Understanding

The other day I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture on Product Semantics by Reinhart Butter (the guy you coined the term in 1984). He took us through a little bit of the history of Product Semantics which first began by asking the question, “What is the meaning of form and shape?”. This research led to an initial defining of Product Semantics “as the study of symbolic use of form in industrial design”, this definition has been further refined to “the interaction between the user and the product”. Mr. Butter had some interesting thoughts on design, the first being replace the word “user” with “stakeholder” because they are the ones how can gain from the success of a product. He also introduced four key concepts for Product Semantics:

The Concept of People

You must keep in mind everyone that will come into contact with the product. This includes the Stakeholders (users), Engineers, Marketers, Designers, Cleaning People, etc.

The Concept of Understanding

You must use 2nd Degree Understanding (The Understanding of Understanding). Put yourself in the mind of the whoever has to interact with the design, it is not enough to simply say “I’m the expert, I like it.”

The Concept of Context

Know how/where the product will be used. This does not only apply to the physical context of the product, but the emotional context, psychological context, etc. as well.

The Concept of Testing

Multiple rounds of testing are required before the final design can be produced. As students its not enough for use to test on our friends and classmates, they have stake in the outcome, you need to go out have have stakeholders (users) test the design.

He also left us with a few words of wisdom, my favorite being:

“You do not just come up with something! You Develop Something. You Research Something. You Prototype Something. You Build Something. You Test Something. You Blood, Sweat, and Tears Something….YOU DO NOT JUST COME UP WITH SOMETHING!!!


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