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Aesthetic Flexibility: Modularity of Visual Form in Product Portfolios and Branded Products
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Machine Design. Linköping University, Faculty of Science & Engineering.
2016 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The increase in competition amongst companies that produce complex or large product portfolios has created a need to utilise modularity strategies not only to flexibly manage technical complexity in a costeffective manner but also for visual appearance. This research aims to understand how the visual appearance of products is affected by modular product development strategies. Specifically, the aim is to understand how such strategies induce constraints and generate possibilities for management of visual appearance in the design process.

Five studies have been conducted during the course of this licentiate thesis. Two were conducted with professionals and students in design, while the remaining three are theoretical studies based on findings in the literature, theory building, and experimental research. The goal has been to investigate how designers work when they are put to the task of changing and developing the designs of complex products that are part of a portfolio. The challenge has been to study what suitable strategies exist that manage complex products and product brands, then investigate how these influence designers’ practices.

The first study examined how coherence towards a product category influences the design of new products. The outcome of the study was a method to explore visual coherence and diversity in the appearance of a product category.

The remaining four studies investigated how modularity, brand management and the redesign of product portfolios influence a design process. The second study described a design phenomenon known as aesthetic flexibility, which was further explored in studies three and five. The outcome from these studies was a proposal for four aesthetic flexibility strategies.

The fourth study investigated in what way portfolio extension strategies found in brand management and design research are related, and how such strategies influence aesthetic flexibility. The results from study four were illustrated as a model.

The main contribution of this work is the phenomenon of ‘aesthetic flexibility’, which helps understand the factors that influence designers when working with branded modular products. Understanding visual flexibility serves as a starting point in further investigations of how different development strategies affect the possibilities for visual product design.

The findings of this work serve to illustrate and explain a complex and multi-facetted design phenomenon which many designers manage more or less intuitively today, thus advancing academics’, teachers’ and professional designers’ understanding of the field.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2016. , 72 p.
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Thesis, ISSN 0280-7971 ; 1754
Keyword [en]
Aesthetic flexibility, industrial design, product modularity, brand extension, product portfolio development, carry-over, face-lift
National Category
Design Economics and Business
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-129551ISBN: 978-91-7685-741-0 (print)OAI: diva2:940515
2016-06-17, ACAS, A-huset, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 14:15 (Swedish)
Available from: 2016-06-21 Created: 2016-06-21 Last updated: 2016-06-21Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Aesthetic Flexibility in the Management of Visual Product Branding
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Aesthetic Flexibility in the Management of Visual Product Branding
2015 (English)In: Procedia Manufacturing, ISSN 2351-9789, Vol. 3, 2191-2198 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This paper will investigate the strategic design decision-making of an in-house designer in a company with a large product portfolio, with respect to how designers plan for future visual alterations of the product. In-house designers have to think strategically about the creation of recognition and differentiation through design because they influence the company’s overall strategies. Therefore, while balancing aesthetic and semiotic qualities of the product, designers have to consider current as well as future needs for recognition and product differentiation. The ability to do so is affected by cost and brand positioning strategy. An exploratory study was setup to investigate what design strategies could be found in an industrial design team employed by a company. The study exposed how in-house designers could strategically incorporate aesthetic flexibility in product parts in order to create opportunities for faster facelifts or redesigns. The importance of managing carry-over details in larger product portfolios was also discovered. To carry over parts from different products is an important way for a company to save money, development time and at the same time increase brand recognition through repetition. Carry-over can be an aid to enhance visual recognition, but it can also be a hindrance when the designer needs to create differencing design values. Most products have a lifespan before they need to be updated or redesigned, which depends on the competition in a product segment. This makes it extra important for designers to have an understanding of when to incorporate carry-over details and when not to. A model was created to describe how carry-over details, design cues and aesthetic flexibility could be managed in a product portfolio. The model is based on Rune Monö’s works and brand management literature, with an emphasis on the brand positioning framework of Point of Difference, Point of Parity and brand extension by Keller et al.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2015
Strategic Design Decisions, Brand extension, Visual recognition, Product management, In-house designers, Carry-over
National Category
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-129547 (URN)10.1016/j.promfg.2015.07.360 (DOI)000383740302042 ()
6th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2015) and the Affiliated Conferences, AHFE 2015, 26–30 July 2015Las Vegas, United States
Available from: 2016-06-21 Created: 2016-06-21 Last updated: 2016-12-06Bibliographically approved

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