Harnessing the role of meaning in products and services to foster eco-sufficient user behavior

Gregor Waltersdorfer
Collaboration company: PhD project at the University of Luxembourg
Supervisory team: Prof. Holger Voos (University of Luxembourg) Prof. Pieter Desmet (TU Delft) Prof. Lucienne Blessing (Singapore University of Technology and Design) Dr. Kilian Gericke (University of Luxembourg)

Since humans are overshooting three of nine planetary boundaries (Rockström et al. 2009), “curbing consumption”  is seen as one of five priorities for sustainable development that focus on human behavior (Fischer et al. 2012). Eco-sufficient behavior is about voluntarily limit one’s material needs (Huber 2000), in order to reach an qualitative and quantitative optimal state (Darby 2007). Product-service-systems are a range of diverse business models that can incorporate eco-sufficient user behavior into business practices (Mont & Tukker 2006).

Design has a major influence on user behavior, practices and consumption and the entailed environmental and social effects. Many scholars already explored ways how designers can address behavior and practices in a sustainable way (Tromp 2013; Lilley 2009; Bhamra et al. 2011; Zachrisson & Boks 2012; Scott et al. 2012). Surprisingly, despite some calls (Oehlberg et al. 2007; Thorpe 2010), meaning and its evocation through design remain underexplored to this end.

Basically, meaning is regarded as a strong intrinsic motivational factor and can make behavior stick. The meaning of products is connected to the symbolic role of goods and the construction of users’ identities, which also influence consumption (Jackson 2005).

The aim of this Ph.D. project is to explore how designers can be supported in successfully conveying meaning to users, in order to encourage them to behave more eco-sufficient. This approach to behavioral change is exemplified by studying products and services that rely on sharing goods.

Two empirical studies provide deeper insights into the concept of meaning, its effect on user behavior and how meaning can be evoked by design.

The research outcomes are 1.) a model describing how meaning influences behavior (Waltersdorfer et al. 2015), 2.) a framework for analyzing meanings and linking them with the involved product and service characteristics, and 3.) guidelines for designers to harness meaning for behavioral change.


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  • Waltersdorfer, G., Gericke, K. & Blessing, L.T.M., 2015. Designing meaning to change consumer behaviour: an exploration. In A. Chakrabarti, ed. ICoRD’15 – Research into Design Across Boundaries Volume 1: Theory, Research Methodology, Aesthetics, Human Factors and Education. Springer India, pp. 341–351.
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