Research Output

(In)tangib/es: Sociocultural references in the design process milieu.

  This thesis broadly engages with the design process and design education, but focuses
particularly on sociocultural and (in)tangible references that are communicated verbally,
visually and textually within the design environment. With the aim of defining references
and subsequently understanding the contextualized sociocultural environments
ethnographically oriented methods and an interdisciplinary theoretical model are
developed and applied to two field studies. This research combines design with cultural
anthropology, social psychology and social cognition towards gaining a more holistic
viewpoint on design processes. Each empirical field study uses the same research
approach, methodology, theoretical framework, and subsequent data analyses and
display. The methods include observational techniques, questionnaires to query personal
information, and informal interviews to track the design process. Videotape recordings are
used to track the in-studio activity and still photography is used to capture the visual
communications along with the sociocultural context of the participants. The studies are
longitudinal, being six and seven weeks in duration, and follow university level industrial
design students and their instructors from the onset of their design brief to the completion
of their project. The first study takes place in Scotland in the United Kingdom (UK) where
the students are working towards the design of an airline meal tray. The second study
takes place in Western Canada and involves the design of sports eyewear.
This research defines and describes sociocultural factors as these are identified through
references. Sociocultural references include the individual-personal and social-cultural
inforrnation that is embedded in an individuals' personal make-up, called here
sociocultural capital. How, when and why sociocultural capital is used during the creation
of an artefact is of primary interest in this work. Design decisions are made regarding
artefact form, overall aesthetics, materials, manufacture, user experience and more.
These decisions are made through considering the stakeholders in the project (e.g.,
instructors, clients, users) and references to these are called tangible because they are
easily relatable to the design brief and the well-known documented stages of deSigning.
The references that are abstract and have distance from the task at hand are called the
intangibles. Sociocultural references are both tangible and intangible but relate specifically
to the sociocultural capital of the individuals making them. Patterns, themes and
categories about the design process, designing, the individual design students and two
educational scenarios including the studio culture and design culture are revealed through
the references.
This research herein discusses and raises three central ideas as follows:
• A theoretical model called the deSign process milieu for understanding the holistic
designing scenario including inside-local, inside-universal, outside-local and
inside-universal environments. This includes a detailed breakdown of how to use
the model including a systematic approach, methods and analyses system.
• A definition and description of the nature of (in)tangible references including when
and why they are used during the design process.
• Detailed descriptions of two design environments including the studio culture and
design culture.
It is argued in this research that references provide important details about the
sociocultural context of the design scenario. Furthermore it is also argued that all things
discussed in the design process are meaningful and have the potential to steer the
development of an artefact. Therefore, there are substantial implications for this research
relating to how design students, educators and designers are affected by the
sociocultural contexts enveloping them; what types of sociocultural capital designers use;
and to a lesser degree, how, when and why they use their sociocultural capital. The
insights from this work result in recommendations for design education, practice and
design research in general.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    31 January 2006

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    NC Drawing Design Illustration


Strickfaden, M. (In)tangib/es: Sociocultural references in the design process milieu. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



Design; process; education; environment; sociocultural; intangible; cultural anthropology;

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