Playful engagements in product design: developing a theoretical framework for ludo-aesthetic interactions in kitchen appliances
Jalalzadeh Moghadam Shahri, Bahareh
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This research is an investigation into the playful aspects of designed products. Defining playfulness in products, besides and beyond utilitarian functions and aesthetics, is at the heart of this thesis. In product design research, playfulness, this indispensable element of our mediated world, is either superficially limited to visual seduction or entangled with new technologies that it seems as if play appears as peripheral. The main objective of this research, therefore, is to understand how play can be embodied within a product at the design stage. The research has been supported by a considerable body of literature on the definition of play, product reviews and qualitative fieldwork studies. The fieldwork and ethnographic research was conducted in three stages. First, a series of semi-structured interviews were carried out with second-year product design students at the Edinburgh College of Art. The aim was to examine their understanding of the playful aspects in their own interactive design. The second stage was a series of focus group discussions held with women over the age of 65 to explore how they understand and interpret playfulness in the context of kitchen appliances, and how the change of functions may affect their attitudes toward the activities of their everyday life. Finally, through using a number of ethnographic research methods, five Edinburgh women, aged between 25 and 35, were observed in their kitchens to assess their style of cooking and the way they interacted with their chosen household products. As a result of these field studies, four main aspects of playfulness in these interactions were discovered: communicative and social aspects, dynamic and bodily engagement, the distractive and immersive quality of play and finally, the ‘self-reflective’ aspects of play. The latter is indebted to the idea of ‘ludification of societies’ proposed by Jos De Mul (2005), who draws attention to the increase of playful activities in Western societies in the 21st century and the emergence of a new state of identity, or ‘ludic identity’. In considering this exploration, I have developed a new framework for the ludo-aesthetics of interaction based on the ‘aesthetics of interaction’ which aims to explain the deeper meanings of playful engagements in product interactions. By defining play and reviewing the possibilities of playfulness in products, I have created a taxonomy of playful products, providing a broad spectrum of play, from visually and functionally playful to more subtle and hidden agendas, which only can be highlighted through the active role of users. The findings to emerge from this study are, firstly, playfulness in product design is not an emotion elicited from using a product but rather is a mode, with a broad range of interactions, from objective to subjective, and from personal to social. Second, to assign any attribute of playfulness to a product without considering the contribution of the user, the socio-cultural environment of use and the reflective and constructive interactions of users with products is reductive and superficial. In order to make these findings more tangible for designers and students in product design, I have visualised four food-related scenarios by imaginative personas based on the observations I made in the course of the fieldwork. In addition, I have drawn upon the term ‘replay’ (normally associated with gaming) to demonstrate that playfulness can occur through recalling the objects of the past, the culture of reusing and recycling, and retro style. In essence, this PhD sets the parameters of what designers should be aware of while dealing with people’s playful interactions with products. It is my belief that such awareness, as a complementary element of aesthetic interactions, will help designers to expand their territory of research and widen their scope for design practices.