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The Semantic Turn

The Semantic Turn

The Semantic Turn
by Klaus Krippendorff

This should be required reading for interaction designers. It came out in 2005 and I believe it represents a huge paradigm shift in the field. Krippendorf argues that design should focus more on the semantics and value of artifacts rather than intended use. The idea is that a designer cannot possibly foresee what use somebody might glean from a design. Additionally, different users attach different meanings to the same artifact. He gives a simple example of the Lamborghini. The artifact is essentially a sports meant to be used to drive fast. However, the car takes on different meanings (such as a status symbol) in use. However, this ‘semantic turn’ also takes the stand that there is no real wrong use. It is simply an awareness and forethought that the artifact’s use and meaning will evolve.

The book is filled with quotables and new directions for design. He asserts that “design is fundamentally concerned with innovation, with making changes happen, and designers are especially challenged by common beliefs in what cannot be done” (210). Essentially, Krippendorf tries to illustrate the unique and inherently powerful (although he doesn’t state the latter) role of designers. When he describes his ideas of a ‘science for design’ rather than of design or design science, he tries to reconcile misconceptions of design as being problem-solving 0r in the service of well-defined causes. The above quote shows his belief (and this is echoed previously by Stolterman and Lowgren in Thoughtful Interaction Design) that design is concerned more with ‘creating’ future, or creating the unknown. For this reason, scientific methods of analysis will never fully serve the practice of design because it cannot be defined or systematized.

It is difficult to summarize this book or give it proper treatment. But, it should be known that this will probably become one of the founding writing’s in the field of interaction design. A must-read for practitioners


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