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Design for meaning

Problem Statement

With the increasing availability of affordable products, systems and services the attention of architects and designers is turning more-and-more to the properties of “experience” and “meaning”. Characteristics which are lower in the “Maslow Hierarchy of Needs” such as safety, functionality and comfort are increasingly seen as “minimum requirements” rather than areas which provide “competitive advantage”. Internationally, there is a growing awareness that design can no longer concentrate on functionality or even interaction, but must focus instead strongly on matters of “experience” and “meaning”. One approach is to conceive products, systems and services based on their intended meaning during the very first stage of the design process. Preliminary research has been performed to define the essential components of the “design for meaning” approach and a small number of artefacts have been the subject of “design for meaning”. Nevertheless, much of the basic machinery of “design for meaning” and most of the strengths and weaknesses of the approach still need to be explored and defined. Research is required to define formal methods for applying “design for meaning” in an efficient and economically viable manner. The proposed research will investigate the area of “design for meaning” and will focus strongly on the key issues of “categories of meaning”, “contextual constraints” and “existing versus new meanings”.

Programme of work

  • Literature review of the sources of human meaning (psychological, sociological and economic).
  • Literature review of the current state-of-the-art in “design for meaning”.
  • Development of detailed taxonomies under the umbrella categories of “function”, ritual” and “myth”.
  • Development of measurement scales under the umbrella categories of “function”, ritual” and “myth”.
  • Ethnographic activity to improve and extend the taxonomy of meaning in real world settings.
  • Testing of the measurement scales with a minimum of 20 individuals of varying gender, age and nationality.
  • Case history application of the “design for meaning” approach to an urban mobility system. - Comparison of the specifications which emerge for the urban mobility system via “design for meaning” to the specifications obtained via a traditional “ethnographic approach”..
  • Final reporting

The proposed research will substantially and decisively extend the knowledge of the issues involved in “design for meaning” and is expected to produce important clarifications regarding how, when and why the approach might be applied. The research will also provide a first comprehensive case history of the application of “design for meaning” to the real world context of urban mobility. Finally, the research will develop new evidence of the ability of “design for meaning” to enhance customer experience and to deepen customer loyalty.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you would be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Joseph Giacomin - Joseph Giacomin is a professor of Human Centred Design at Brunel University London where he performs research leading to products, systems and services which are physically, perceptually, cognitively and emotionally intuitive. He has a Ph.D. from Sheffield University in the United Kingdom and both Master's and Bachelor's degrees from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. U.S.A.. He has worked for both the American military and the European automobile industry. He has produced more than 120 publications including the books "Humans And Autonomous Vehicles", "Automotive Human Centred Design Methods" and "Thermal - seeing the world through 21st century eyes". He is a member of the editorial boards of Ergonomics and the International Journal Of Vehicle Noise And Vibration (IJVNV). He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute Of Ergonomics & Human Factors (CIEHF), a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), a member of the Associazione Per Il Disegno Industriale (ADI) and a member of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS).  Professional qualifications - PhD, MME, BME, F.Erg.S, FRSA, F.ADI