Meaning has been a growing point of discussion in the design world over the past four years. Even in the business world, meaning is increasingly addressed by strategists, entrepreneurs, and investors, especially in the sustainability and social venture markets. Authors such as Guy Kawasaki regularly extol the need for developers and organizations to make more meaningful offerings (see Figure 4.1).
FIGURE 4.1. /М http://www. flickr. com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/3260851513
The levels of meaning.
Typically, designers aim to engage customers on an emotional level, and we find that the discussion of the virtues and dangers of emotional engagement usually includes examples from advertising. However, developers of all types rely on instinct to engage customers at this level, and they lack a coherent, reliable framework for engaging customers more deeply and consistently in product and service development. Whether the target emotions are positive (love, admiration, joy, excitement, etc.) or negative (fear, terror, anxiety, etc.) doesn’t change the process. Emotions are powerful mechanisms for customers to connect and build relationships with (or revulsions to) products, services, events, brands, or organizations.
Emotions are powerful mechanisms for customers to connect and build relationships with (or revulsions to) products, services, events, brands, or organizations.
The Joyless Economy. He observes that more money and material possessions often result in more dissatisfaction in people’s lives. The book describes how comfort and pleasure are opposed, and how both specialization and mass production contribute to an economy of ever-greater stimulus (through novelty) and often less satisfaction. Simply providing more and more novel solutions doesn’t result in a higher quality of life. (For example, just look at the proliferation, spikes, and downfalls of most new kitchen appliances, such as the Hot Dogger and automatic bread maker.) Emotions are quick phenomena that are powerful and motivating, but are not sustainable over medium or long periods of time. However, when we set expectations for continued levels of high emotions, we create the conditions for even higher disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Emotions aren’t even the most powerful or deepest level of connection that customers make with products, services, events, environments, or brands. Values and meaning run even deeper than emotions and require even more careful consideration. All of these, however, are now described in a framework for designers to use in the development process.
Values and meaning run even deeper than emotions and require even more careful consideration.
Meaning is the deepest level at which people (audiences, users, customers, participants, etc.) engage with a product, service, or event. It is the most important aspect of the experience created between people and objects or between people and others. It represents the deepest level of five levels that describe how we assess (often unconsciously) how these experiences fit into our lives and how they are important to us. In addition, it’s used as an evaluation criteria for choosing among the myriad alternatives and options available to us.
The five levels of significance include the following areas (see Figure 4.1):
The 15 core meanings are represented by the following attributes:
While it hasn’t been proven, there is circumstantial evidence that people who are engaged by a product at the deeper levels of significance (such as values and meaning) are less likely to consume products and services simply to fill some perceived void or dissatisfaction. If you think about the people in your life who consciously choose not to consume at “normal” levels or make it a point to live “lightly,” they are often those who are most satisfied in terms of finding meaning in their lives and living according to their values. Again, I haven’t seen definitive proof of this yet, but my instinct says there is a pattern here.
If this is indeed the case, then one path toward more sustainable solutions is in more meaningful ones. If we consume less when our meaning and value needs are satisfied, then meaningful experiences and solutions can lead to more sustainable ones. Think about the things in your life that you cherish. These aren’t things that you give up or replace lightly. Chances are that they’re not interchangeable within the context of fashion and trends and that you don’t feel the need to discard them easily.
While it hasn’t been proven, there is circumstantial evidence that people who are engaged by a product at the deeper levels of significance (such as values and meaning) are less likely to consume products and services simply to fill some perceived void or dissatisfaction.
Those who engage the world in meaningful ways don’t look to products and services so much to satisfy their core meanings. For example, when your need for oneness and community is fulfilled, you will certainly buy clothes that reflect these meanings for you but you will likely not need to buy so many clothes to accomplish the same meaningful sensation. In addition, because these clothes connect to your values and meanings so deeply, you won’t be as willing to discard and replace them with others simply because styles have changed. The result is that you may not only buy fewer clothes and keep them longer, but you will feel a deeper connection to them and feel more accurately represented by them.
Those who engage the world in meaningful ways don’t look to products and services so much to satisfy their core meanings.
For sure, the items, context, and foci of these deep meanings change individually and most people won’t reduce their consumption simply because they can. Some may find connection in clothes or food or cars or their home, while others might find it in their work, their hobbies, or the time they spend with people. We can’t prioritize all 15 core meanings in our lives. At best, we can prioritize between two and four. In addition, we all express these meanings differently, depending on our personal and shared values. However, these core meanings are universal throughout all cultures so we have a point of departure where we can address meaning from a common framework. This is why design research is so critical during the design process—it serves to uncover the elements that can lead us to better understand our customers at these levels.