Product expression: Bridging the gap between the symbolic and the concrete

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    This chapter presents different perspectives on (product) expression or symbolic meaning (synonyms used alternately). Although different in scope and focus, they all share the sometimes hidden assumption that an object's perceived expression results from the interaction between object and perceiver. However, in accounting for symbolic meanings, researchers usually stress the role of either the perceiver or the object perceived. To provide a rough classification of relevant studies in expression (varying widely in focus and scope) they are presented along these lines. This chapter discusses studies in which the object is at the center of investigation. In this type of study, relations between formal object features and symbolic meanings are explored. In addition, this chapter reviews research that places primary emphasis on the role of the perceiver in the coming about of an object's expression. According to this approach, symbolic product meanings can be traced to cognitive or biologically centered processes. Apart from the discussion of object- and individual-centered perspectives, this chapter presents a third perspective, originating in the writings of the philosophers John Dewey (1934) and Merleau-Ponty (1962). Both stress the fact that (symbolic) meaning can only be studied in the light of interactions between individual and environment. By consequence, explicit and equal emphasis should be placed on the interdependent contributions of both object and perceiver. Since object-perceiver interactions are constrained by the peculiarities of the human body, both view meaning as essentially embodied. In the last two decades, this approach has resurfaced in cognitive psychology and has proven to be very successful in accounting for symbolic meanings of all kinds. In line with recent studies in cognitive psychology, this chapter argues that symbolic meanings exemplified by products are rooted in our own embodied experiences arising from interactions with the environment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProduct Experience
    EditorsHendrik N.J. Schifferstein, Paul Hekkert
    Place of PublicationAmsterdam
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Print)978-0-08-045089-6
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2008

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