Cultural context and service design: developing critical and meaning-making capacity

This paper reports on the experimental introduction of a socio-cultural lens to the design process, to aid in mapping symbolic aspects of consumption: i.e. users’ expectations, aspirations and identification needs and the sociocultural rules at play in the context of the innovation. An action research intervention was implemented with design students to investigate how applied semiotics and cultural analysis methods support user research and meaning-making during the design process. Students were provided with theories, activities and templates to facilitate the exploration of global and local socio-cultural trends, positioning of innovation in the cultural category and mapping codes and other contextual socio-symbolic signifiers that influence users’ preferences and choices. Results indicate that cultural context analysis contributes to build critical thinking skills and capacity in designers, and enables a wider awareness of the mediating role of design in the acceptance and diffusion of innovations.