What Is Design For Meaning ?

The first of my publications treating “design for meaning” has just gone to print. The paper establishes the basic framework of the approach, while the upcoming publications are describing the practical tools which can be used.

Giacomin, J. 2017, What is design for meaning ?, Journal of Design, Business & Society, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp 167-190.




The Nutshell Technique

nutshell technique

Developing engaging design scenarios can be a challenging task for many projects. At its heart, a design scenario is a situation in which an artefact and a human interact in some important and meaningful way. Designers thus may find it beneficial to search for inspiration and borrow techniques from screenwriting, so as to adopt best practice from the production of plays and movies.

Veteran script consultant Jill Chamberlain’s  book The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting explains her technique for scripting a film and provides easy-to-follow diagrams which can be deployed by designers.

The readers are taken step-by-step through thirty movies, showing how dissimilar screenplays such as Casablanca, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo all actually follow the same general principles.

The Dangers Of Clever Artefacts

Two news stories this week highlight issues associated with the use of increasingly complex technologies.

In one news story Amazon Alexa decided to throw a party in the middle of the night when nobody was home, and the complaints from upset neighbours lead to a police break-in with resulting substantial costs to Alexa’s owner.


In another news story a vibrator sex toy was found to be automatically recording sound during its use without the knowledge or approval of its owner.


I suspect that the optimistic visions of the future involving our automated assistants and partners had never anticipated these issues…




Pro-Social And Anti-Social Behaviour


Designers always need to consider the possible effects of their artefacts on the people who use them. Often, the effects extend well beyond the practical task-based considerations.

David Clarke’s enjoyable text provide a gold mine of information regarding human behaviour, which will prove useful to any designer. The neatly summarised psychological and sociological findings provide insights which can help towards both designing and evaluating a range of products, systems and services.

Interview Questions

constructing interview questions the psychology of survey response

Two textbooks which are invaluable when developing interviews and questionnaires for use in design are the text by Foddy and that of Tourangeau, Rips and Rasinski. Between them, the texts cover a wide range of essential issues which are critical to any ethongrpahic enquiry, including matters of question type, questioning framework, effect of context and the limitations of human recall.

The Culture Of Speed: the coming of immediacy

the culture of speed

In the design community “time” is rapidly replacing “space” as the key to success. A person’s age is now usually a greater determinant of design requirements than the place where she or he lives. Further, the response times of products, systems or services are now a greater determinant of success than most other characteristics.

John Tomlinson’s thought provoking text provides an introduction to these matters via a thorough historical review and a careful elaboration of the concept of “immediacy”. The book is a “must read” for today’s designers.




Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

weapons of mass destruction

Are institutionalised teaching assessments chasing the best teachers from our schools ? Are algorithms using big data to deny people loans based on flawed premises ? Will your child not get into a good school because of an unfortunate combination of demographic indicators ?

Cathy O’Neil’s thought provoking book provides case histories which illustrate how the use of computers and algorithms is often leading to unanticipated serious problems in many areas of society.

The hope had been that computers and algorithms would work for us and integrate within our preferred human behaviours.

Have they instead forced us to adapt to theirs ?