April 27, 2021

A Manifesto for Meaning-Based Design

A Manifesto for Meaning-Based Design in Today's World of Woke Consumers

By Dr. Mark SzaboThe market economy has enabled us to lift ourselves from basic subsistence to the point where we can worry about whether the next flavour of Doritos will be sufficiently stimulating to our palate, or whether this bottle of truffle oil is properly infused. We are discovering, however, that everything is not enough. At the same time, we’re scrambling to replace the millennia of accumulated human-wisdom that we’ve been busy summarily torching.The answer we’ve landed on is an understanding that these days, consumers are looking for that lost meaning in what they purchase. As a result, the unfortunate idea that “the political is personal” has taken hold around us, with predictable results. Now the purchase of a chicken sandwich, a running shoe or a cake is an act of social rebellion that can get the wrong person cast from the public square. As we buy more and more according to our values, as a way to feel good and to signal what we believe to the world, it becomes harder for brands to get the right tone. So, what’s a brand to do?

Focus on meaning, not utility.

Brand experiences have always been informed by data about thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Those data have largely been focused on the utility of a brand, not so much about the meaning people derive from it. That will leave any brand flat-footed when it comes time to make hard choices about how to navigate this complex challenge.This is where a meaning-based design approach is very powerful. By constantly asking what meaning a product needs to have, and what new meaning it can create, a design team can focus its activity from the start of a design process to the end, and afterwards as the design is continually evolved and optimized.Regardless of where things lead, we can be certain that those creating brand experiences will serve society very well if they can make sure to keep up with the importance of our enduring dance with meaning and provide a process for meaning-based design.