Switch the channel: using cultural codes for designing and positioning sustainable products and services for mainstream audiences

An important step towards achieving sustainability is to encourage a wide uptake of more resource-efficient consumption patterns by the mainstream of society. In this paper, it is argued that by paying more attention to the elaboration of meaning – or symbolic value – designers can develop innovations that are more appealing and relevant to a wider range of potential users, especially by positioning sustainable products, services, and systems as aspirational choices that lead the user to improved well-being and happiness. The theoretical proposition is explored in the context of sustainable Product Service Systems (sustainable PSS), analysing the opportunities they pose for systemic disruption as radical innovations, and proposing a design framework for tackling the cultural barriers for their mainstream adoption. Based on the theoretical propositions, an initial methodological framework for the integration of semiotic and cultural analysis methods to the design process is discussed, in order to better support designers in identify the cultural codes that can make sustainable PSS innovations more relevant and desirable in their socio-cultural context. In exploring the potential of semiotics and cultural analysis methods as a strategy to improve the value proposition of sustainable innovations, we offer a new perspective for understanding the symbolic aspects of consumption as social signifier, and highlight the opportunities this opens for sustainable design to influence societal transformation.