International design criminal

Sara Rockwell, Purdue University


This master’s thesis is a reevaluation of the dominant product design methodology. Designing products is not just a series of actions leading to the most cost-effective solution for manufacturing moving components and material specifications. By separating design methodology into three sub-categories (brand, social need, culture), a more user-focused and personalized approach can be used to determine what makes a design successful. Rather than looking at success within product design as being a result of financial success, success will be evaluated by its ability to impact societies, cultural movements, and individual user identities. Personal identity is developed as part of a cycle where the construction and development is through the accumulation of objects, which multiplies brand-centric cultural identities, therefore resulting in the formation and reformation of brand identity. The result of this relationship between consumer identity and brand identity is defined and constructed through accumulation. The new found awareness of the incredible impact that brands, cultures, and social needs have on the success of a designed object uncovers a need for these areas to be explored and incorporated into the design process. Existing methodologies within design create gaps as a result of their formalities and rigid structure; the design process must be flexible and aware of the constantly changing needs of the user. While the objects define the identity of the user, the process defines the identity of the designer.^ A congruent piece of this cycle is rebellion; for every object being embraced by a culture, there is a parallel culture rejecting the exact same object. This rebellion or counter-cultural movement is every bit an integral part of brand identity construction, and a frequently overlooked step in the design process. An important step of understanding the needs and identity of a countercultural market segment is to first understand the culture being rebelled against. The scope of this thesis categorizes existing designers within a spectrum ranging from critical design to commercial design, as well brand identity, cultural identity, and social identity, and the resistance that occurs in all these areas.^ The problem being addressed within this thesis is that successful design of a product can no longer be measured solely on its aesthetic form or inherent function; the success of a designed object is the associations, relationships, ideas, concerns, and expressions it generates. As a consumer, an individual is perpetually on the other end of something being marketed to them. The question posed is whether or not what is being consumed is an identity that the brand marketing the product implies, or an actual tangible object. This questioning and evaluation of products and their meaning and intent is contrasting approach to traditional methodologies within product design. Within this critical process, the intent of the design is to communicate a point or message; its success is gauged by its ability to influence change or bring physical recognition and evaluation to an abstract concept. By using some research methods not typically explored within product design research, a more brand and culture-focused approach can bring a new understanding to product design, with critical and intuitive insights and results.^ By classifying what critical and consumer design really implies, and defining a products intent or “identity” in relation to these extreme polarities within design, the parameters can be labeled as to when a critical product crosses the line into consumer product, and how this changes both the identity of that object, and the identity it creates in the user. ^




Steve Visser, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Business Administration, Marketing|Design and Decorative Arts

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