Designing Objects and Texts: an exploratory examination of narratives, texts and reflecting on difference inside product design projects

Verhoeven, G. Arno (2022). Designing Objects and Texts: an exploratory examination of narratives, texts and reflecting on difference inside product design projects. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

This dissertation involves an exploratory examination of student product design projects, through the lens of narrative modes of discourse, where objects are understood as particular forms of text. This position is predicated on understanding the paradigm of design as a social practice. The product design project results in a variety of concretised outputs, understood as texts, including drawings, sketches, models, prototypes, as well as accounts and reports of experience, from a variety of perspectives. In sociolinguistic terms, texts arise because of difference, which is made apparent through reflections on identification, analogy, opposition and ascertaining resemblance across experiences of events and the components of which they are comprised.

A mixed methods approach combines empirical case studies of postgraduate product design projects adopting a macro-structural perspective, combined with a micro-situational accounts of intermediary tutorials between students and their tutor, reflecting upon project developments, through discussions involving sequences of events, comprised of particular actors engaged in action in a place and time. A grounded approach reveals multiple narratives in the product design project, where the prototypes in progress are examined and interrogated as participants themselves involved in shaping the narrative frame.

Analysis provides the design difference framework, involving 5 production rules associated with a product project that addresses the narrative transition. These involve decomposing, characterising, rewriting, cohering and recomposing. The provisional framework is discussed, suggesting that the application of production rules results in difference, evident in the negotiation between extant determined objects in the world, and abstract, determinable concepts in the mind.

A final discussion regarding the theoretical framework presents a reflective critique of the thesis, and discusses contributions made and future work to be undertaken.

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