Product Design and the Human Body: Towards a Critical Theory

By Rui Dias and Leonor Ferrão.

Published by The International Journal of Designed Objects

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 22, 2014 $US5.00

Industrial products, like all artefacts, are clearly connected with the human body: because they are designed and produced for the body’s use and enjoyment, because they complement or complete the body, because they establish links between the body and the physical world, or because they allow the body to take on social and cultural participation. Products interact with the body in its sphere of action. With the aim to provide comfort, well-being, functionality, performance, or beauty, product design should consider the relationship between products and the body. Usually, designers use anthropometric data and turn to ergonomics but often ignore interpretations of the body from other disciplinary fields, like those within from humanities and social sciences. In order to find whether or not a critical theory of the human body is pertinent for product design, we use the following research methods: reviewing relevant studies by seminal authors from humanities and social sciences to consider several interpretations of the body in terms of its relationship with the world, be it physical, technological, cultural or social. Considering a wider perspective of the body is more useful for practising a discipline (i.e., product design) that must always fulfil a regulating ethical role: with social, cultural, ecological and human impact. We intend to contribute to a renewed awareness about the body, which is fundamental to developing culturally clear and socially responsible project practices.

Keywords: Product Design, Human Body, Critical Theory

The International Journal of Designed Objects, Volume 7, Issue 2, April 2014, pp.31-43. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 22, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 453.543KB)).

Rui Dias

PhD Researcher, Research Centre in Architecture, Urban Planning and Design, Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal

Rui Dias is a PhD researcher at the Research Centre in Architecture in urban planning and design at the Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon, and a design lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and Arts, Lusíada University of Lisbon. He has a degree in equipment design from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Lisbon. He has done postgraduate studies in product design at the Glasgow School of Art / Portuguese Design Centre; postgraduate studies in communication, culture, and information technology at the Higher Institute of Work and Business Sciences (Sociology Department), Lisbon; and advanced studies in design at the Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon. He was co-editor of the design journal Arlíquido: Revista de Design da Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa. His main research theme, as a PhD researcher, is product design and the human body. His main research fields are product design theory and criticism, philosophy, anthropology and sociology of the body.

Prof. Leonor Ferrão

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal

Leonor Morgado Ferrão is the head of the master’s course in product design and a permanent researcher at the Research Centre in Architecture in urban planning and design at the Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon. She is a member of the Department of History and Theory of Architecture, Urbanism and Design. She is also a member of the Scientific Board of the PhD course in design. Her main teaching subjects are the history of modern architecture, history of design, design theory and criticism. She is an architect (Higher School of Fine Arts, Lisbon) with a master’s degree and a PhD in art history (Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, NOVA University of Lisbon). Her main research themes are classicism in architecture and product design theory, criticism, and history.