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PhD defence - Design for Meaning in Products and Services to Foster Eco-Sufficient User Behavior: Exemplified by Sharing Goods

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Speaker: Gregor Waltersdorfer
Event date: Tuesday, 26 September 2017, 10:00 - 14:00
Place: Room E004, JFK Building
29 Avenue J.F. Kennedy
L-1855 Luxembourg

Members of the defence committee:

Chairman: Prof. Dr. Claus VÖGELE, University of Luxembourg
Vice-chairman: Dr. Kilian GERICKE, University of Luxembourg
Supervisor: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Holger VOOS, University of Luxembourg
Member: Prof. Dr. Lucienne BLESSING, Singapore University of Technology & Design, Singapore
Member: Prof. Dr. Pieter DESMET, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to support designers in harnessing meaning that users should find in products and services, in order to foster eco-sufficient user behavior. Despite its importance for explaining consumption in sociology, the concept of meaning is empirically underexplored in design research.

Literature studies into meaning, approaches and topics in design and in design for sustainable behavior, which involve meaning, yield insights for specifying the research questions and framing the empirical investigation. A further literature study is run in order to describe the relation between meaning making and behavior, which results in a model, the Meaning Behavior Model.

In order to empirically explore meaning, a design-as-communication and semiotically inspired perspective is taken, which is theoretically grounded in Peirce's triadic model of signs. Designers, users and non-users of six different services are interviewed. The meanings they find in these services are qualitatively analyzed and compared through statistical tests. Basically, the meaning is conceived as the result of an inference. This conception has never been methodologically used in an empirical study in design and consumer research before. Therefore, a coding scheme is developed for various determinants of meaning, such as the meaning’s MOSC-entities, valence, and the level of congruence between meanings.

The empirical study shows how designers can facilitate the successful conveyance of their intended meanings, support the acceptance of services, and improve the communicative of services. For example, by making use of causal mental relationships for intended meanings, designers can facilitate their successful conveyance. Regarding the influence of meaning on user behavior, it seems that potential users have to make their own efforts in meaning making to adopt a service, however designers should best support these efforts by users and non users in different ways. Sustainability and eco-sufficiency in particular only play a secondary role in meanings users and non-users find in the studied services. Primarily, the adoption of a service is characterized by a mental relationship based on personal gains.

The research tools MOSC-entities and MeaningMap, which are developed through the course of the empirical study, can also be used as design tools. The empirical findings are synthesized into a set of different supports for designers comprising of four different ends to which Design for Meaning can be applied. In addition a sequence for reasoning in Design for Meaning is developed. Finally, the meaning-based design approach is discussed from the perspective of existing concepts in literature in order to embed it in design theory and in design for sustainable behavior. Ultimately, thinking in mental representations of possible relationships, i.e. meaning, of which products and services can be a part, provides a distinct perspective on design.