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The Constitution of The Product: Form, Function, Material, and Expression



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CHAPTER TWO The Constitution of The Product Form Function Material and Expression Because products are the result of a diversity of activities and appear in equally diverse manifestations What constitutes a product is a pressing question for design In this chapter I address the question How is a product constituted I contend that one manner of addressing the constitution of the product is through the dimensions of the product its form function material and expression In this chapter I briefly describe each of the dimensions of the product I propose that products can be described and analyzed by the distributions of significance and influence across the dimensions resulting in different kinds of products each with different agencies I conclude the by presenting a brief plan of inquiry for the subsequent chapters One of the first and frequently encountered problems with products is a problem of definition Products are often reductively equated to physical goods or even more specifically to physical commodities This has the detrimental effect of situating the design of products in the domain of industrial design and engineering and largely excluding products from other activities of design Clearly such a consideration of the product as solely a physical good or as the outcome of one but not another activity of design is not adequate from the perspective of design as a practice involved in the conception planning and making of products across ever increasing domains Therefore a more through and robust definition of the product that can account for the swelling practice of design is needed 32 Design theorist Victor Margolin has put forth a definition of products that is as an effective point to proceed from According to Margolin products are the human made material and immaterial objects activities and services and complex systems or environments that constitute the domain of the artificial Margolin 1995 122 This definition of the product is thorough and robust because it opens the space of what is considered as a product to include all of the potential results of any design activity Following from Margolin the product is not just a physical commodity nor even necessarily physical Rather the product is the result or manifestation of design activity any design activity Speaking of products then includes all of those things that are designed regardless of their physicality or status as a commodity And as the activities and domains of design expand in scope so too does what can be considered as a product Margolin s definition of the product provides a place to begin from but a more distinguishing and exacting depiction of the product is still necessary Given that the definition is so open and that products are the result of such a diversity of activities thereby appearing in an equally diverse range of manifestations what constitutes the product is a pressing question for design In this chapter I address the question How is the product constituted The purpose of addressing the constitution of the product is to discover and articulate a means for describing analyzing and critiquing the product Specifically addressing the constitution of the product provides a perspective that calls heightened attention to the designed elements and qualities of the product and sets the trajectory of this inquiry towards having relevance to both the practice and study of design 33 THE PRODUCT A distinction can be made between viewing the product objectively or subjectively When we use a product we usually regard it as a distinct whole The product is considered bounded and complete in itself This is an objective view of the product the product as a discernable artifact that can be treated without bias on the basis of fact or a measurable quality Considering the product as such implies three things the product can be thoroughly described by observable and demonstrable qualities the product can be evaluated by impartial criteria and the product is a discreet object that can be described and evaluated on its own But there is another view of the product a subjective view From the subjective view the product is revealed as a multi dimensional effort undergoing constant interpretation and reconstruction by both the designer and the public that considers the product and puts it to use A subjective view is not reducible to being described as a view of the product in context Rather the product is the context the locus of attention from and through which experience is observed and interpreted A subjective view of the product is necessitated by the practice of design because an objective view of the product does not adequately account for the role of the product in establishing and maintaining relationships among people and between people and the environment With a subjective view rather than standing outside the product and looking at it we place ourselves as participants in the professional practice of design inside the product and we look through it and with it into the world While we can still distinguish one product from another the basis for the description and evaluation of the product is quite 34 different from in fact contrary to that of an objective view The product includes qualities that are not immediately observable and demonstrable resists impartial evaluation and must be considered relationally As an example consider a house from an objective and subjective perspective With an objective view we look at the house from the outside and we can appreciate its appearance We might if we have some architectural knowledge discern or infer some of its structure how it is held together But we would not be able to know how the house works as a home To do so we must move inside the house and establish a subjective view We would need to examine its floor plan and observe the ways it supports or constrains different activities We would also need to know who lives there what their habits and routines are and how they make use of the house Knowing the inside of the house would allow us to better understand the rationale of the outside of the house and the affiliation between appearance and purpose Is the architectural style displayed on the outside of the house carried through the interior or is it only a surface treatment Finally the view of the house in neighborhood is very different standing on the sidewalk looking at the house than the view of the neighborhood from within the home and through its different windows


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