José E. Lugo

Product Form Preferences & Engineering Design Research

The form of a product is defined by decisions made by designers from a number of disciplines including engineering and industrial design. Engineers work primarily with the functions of a product, and their engineering decisions define to some degree its form and shape. On the other hand, industrial designers work predominantly with the user experience, user interfaces and human needs. Industrial designers focus on the aesthetics of a product, developing its form to align with the style, emotion, and impression that a product should communicate.

Today the aesthetics of a product can be an important factor in product design, especially when the differences in technology among competitors are minimal. Examples include smart phones, MP3 players, and automobiles. The influence of aesthetics on the sales of many products has prompted its study in product design. Marketing has also studied the influence of aesthetics in brand perception. Therefore, the importance of aesthetics has been established in industry, but as Page explains, "little attention has been given to the importance of aesthetics relative to product function".

In complex products, like automobiles, the number of features (functional and form) to compare between products can overwhelm the conscious brain (i.e. prefrontal cortex). However, the right brain (i.e. part of the subconscious mind) is able to handle the large amount of information and deliver a decision in the form of a feeling or emotion. The form of a product by itself can produce these types of emotions that yield a product preference. Other research has studied how form and function affect the decision process when choosing between automobile designs, showing that the form of the automobile silhouette influences the emotion-oriented areas of the brain and product preference more than its functional features. Mechanical engineers design many parts of the product, like its structure and internal mechanical components, that directly impact the product form. This work is focused on products that have shapes with the dual purpose of form and function, for which mechanical engineers play key roles in the design (e.g. wheel rims).

Wheel rim of a 2012 Corvette at the Chicago auto show.
In this research, the Kansei methodology is proposed as a starting point to design a product form for function and aesthetics at the same time. This method can explain what design features influence aesthetics and how they influence it. The proposed work aims to expand on this knowledge to understand why design features influence aesthetics and other perceptual characteristics of the product. The research will focus, as prior work has, only on the visual sense using visual representations of the designs since these are the predominant representations available.