The most beautifully designed objects reveal their beauty in layers. The first layer is the most important, and this is the slice that creates impact. After that we get successive layers – seduction and delight! Things such as detailing, tactility, construction, right through to tiny – but significant interactions – continue to build the consumer’s love affair into long term infatuation.
The ability to craft this layered visual jigsaw to ensure products convey the right signals to the targeted consumer, be it prestige, modernity, fashion, value is an inherent skill of the experienced industrial designer, but in academic circles, what designers are actually doing is referred to as semiotics.
Semiotics is the study of ‘meaning making’. In the early 20th century, a linguist called Ferdinand de Saussure tried to answer a simple question: how do signs make meaning? He concluded that every meaning is divided into two parts the signifier and the signified.
Saussure noted that the signs are rarely used in the singular, for instance whilst red is arguably one such signifier for a Ferrari, it’s the combination of the cars body styling, engine note and Italian savoir faire that completes the image of a Ferrari rather than just the colour alone. Saussure referred to this as the rather wordy ‘paradigm of available options’.
The skill required to understand and select the suitable palette must not be overlooked. The industrial designer must create multiple palettes each delivering the right consumer message, hitting the desired look and feel, whilst providing choice for the client. Saussure referred to these pallets as syntagm.
Of course, if these syntagms are arranged in a different order and with less skill, then you can end up with a very different meaning from the one intended – this is a creative process after all and not purely an academic one.