Objects, materiality and meaning
Torben Lenau & Hanne Lindegaard
Nordcode 2008, May 2008 Lund Sweden.


The present research work investigates the relation between physical objects, their materiality, understood as the physical substances they are made from, and the communication from the objects. In product design of physical objects the communicative aspects are just as important as the function of the object, and the designers aim is therefore to tune both in order to achieve a desired goal. To do so the designer basically has 2 options: Alteration of the physical shape of the object and the selection of materials. Through the manipulation of shape and materials can symbolic and sensory information be written into the object. The materials are therefore carriers of communication, even though this is dependent of the cultural context and the environment which the object will be part of. However the designer has only minor influence on those.

The present work is an attempt to bridge research work earlier done on design semantics with research work in sociotechnical construction of everyday life.

In order to investigate the object materiality message problem area we have conducted an experiment that 56 of our students have carried out during a visit to the art and design museum Trapholt in Denmark. The students are in their first year on the design & innovation engineering education at DTU.

The experiment investigates whether it through a few describing words and iconic drawings is possible to identify a certain object, and the words therefore represent a clear communication. The experiment also has the purpose to expand the collection of examples of the coupling between object, material and meaning. Furthermore the experiment also serves the pedagogical purpose of training the students in decoding the layers of meaning for objects, in linking it to the selection of materials and in translating visual signals into verbal communication.

Working paper