An investigation into the relationship between product form and perceived meanings

KAPKIN E., Joines S.

INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL ERGONOMICS, vol.67, pp.259-273, 2018 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 67
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.ergon.2018.05.009
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.259-273
  • Keywords: Perception, Product design, Product form, Styling, Semantic, Meaning attribution, SPATIAL ACUITY, ORIENTATION, FRAMEWORK, DESIGN, SHAPE
  • Anadolu University Affiliated: Yes


The product form is more than an enclosure of a product. Some studies suggest that product form, as a physical quality, informs the user of the meanings of functionality and utilitarian features (a bottom-up approach); however, some suggest product form is a communication medium dependent on the context. Others suggest form is a construction of meanings by evoking pleasure and emotion (a top-down approach). The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationships between perceived meanings (e.g., safety, elegance) and product form (roundness in multiple dimensions) in an experimental setting. Participants in the experiment interacted with nine hard drive and nine soap dispenser prototypes and provided Likert scale scores about meaning (similar to semantic differential method) for each prototype. The edge and/or corner roundness of these prototypes was manipulated from crisp 90 edges to round edges along two and three dimensions. Results suggest that physical quality of the form and the perceived meaning follow a pattern akin to Fechner's law of perception mostly nonlinear relationships. A small change in product form resulted in a large impact on meaning, and moderate manipulations in product form was more likely to confuse participants. Thus, this investigation underscores that product form should be managed carefully by product designers and companies.