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The Role of the Complex Relationships among [Nature–Man–Culture–Objects] on the Design Management Process

A Bio–Anthropo-Linguistic Approach

 John Restrepo



Culture is the set of psicobiological processes that permits to the man transcend the sensitive experience throughout the abstraction, which is a manifest interpretation in signs and symbols to convert the universe in a world appropriated, used and semantized. Culture is one and universal, it refers to the possibilities of human interpretative mediation.

Cultural Identity is the symbolic concretion of the culture and the set of sign and symbols created, adapted and redesigned by each human group, that permits its identification and projection towards inner and outer spaces.

The separation of the material and symbolic culture has no sense. Objects are considered like texts where a cognitive action (symbolic) is manifested. Objects at the same time, expresses diverse interpretations, elections and decisions that are fundamentals to comprehend processes of adaptation, selection, pertainance and cultural exclusions; processes with which the net [N–M–C–O] is braided.

Objects are cultural products. The way a cultural identity appropriates a given object depends on the cultural background of that identity, depends on the collective imageries. Products influence culture through the creation of new imageries and, at the same time, respond to the identity being an expression of culture. Culture is then, a creator of objects and objects are cultural identity shapers.

Due the increase of international commerce during the last decades, the need of a profound cross–cultural consumer understanding has grown rapidly. This phenomenon makes imperative that we must know not only the meanings a certain group gives to products, objects, brands, etc., but also which meanings are transportable to other cultural groups, or at least, how to create new meanings, in order to make them appear more harmonious with our target’s cultural identity (objective market).

The contribution of this work is a reading of the existing relations among Nature–Man–Culture–Objects in a chronotopos, with the intention to understand how cultural identities are conformed, how products (objects) influence such identity and how, from the planning of design process is possible to predict the impact of products on users’ behavior. Also, with the knowledge acquired, there will be possible to characterize the product in a way that makes easier the introduction of a given product on a market.



Brief description of the model [Nature–Man–Culture–Objects]

The cultural identities development could be explained using the complex relationships network [N–M–C–O], which is an anthropocentric model, since it considers individuals as the center of the cultural identities and the design processes, and heptadimensional, considering each of the relations among each of the four constituting elements as a dimension. The seventh dimension is time, axis used to project the model to fully understand the actions and relations in its interior in a chronotopos that allows us to see the evolving processes that condition its change dynamics.

Design, as a product of the cultural identities, must consider all of the relations that form the structure of the [N–M–C–O] model. Those relations could be expressed as:


Man–Objects: These are the Use and handle relations, explain the modifications on the individual behavior of the user when he/she uses the object. Consider the communicative, and ergonomic. It explores the symbolic, the semantic and the syntactic elements in the objects.



Culture–Objects: The culture as objects generator and objects as cultural identities creators. This relation also explains on a historical basis the continuous cultural development trough objects, and the continuous development of objects because of the cultural evolution. Studies the impact a given object has in the cultural identities. Explores the dimensions in which products can create behavioral modifications on users in a way that is strong enough to significantly influence the user and user’s tribe.

Objects–Nature: The living beings as object inspirators. Shapes, structures, efficiency, signals etc. What does objects take from nature? What does nature have to give to objects? Here bionics and ecology contribute to product development process as conditioners and suggesters.

Nature–Culture: Explores and explains how natural environments condition human behavior and selection/creation of certain objects or products.

Man–Culture: This relation describes man as culture creator and products as culture and man’s shapers

Man–Nature: Man and its relations with another living beings. Influence of these relations in the appearance of new objects. (The use of horses and the saddlers, the changes on diet and the new utensils, i.e.)


Subsystems formed by the elements of the model and its relations are the questioning spaces of a

wide diversity of disciplines. The plane that passes over all of the elements constitutes a cultural

identity and its designs on a given moment of time, the cultural identities and design activities are coplanar.


A projection of the model trough a time axis generates evolving planes in which observations of the elements and its relations could be made. Those observations give information about how the system changes.

A careful analysis and understanding of each of the elements and relations presented in this model is imperious in order to create, in an effective way, common imageries around a given object, by means of publicity or by means of semantic contents put in the object itself.

Objects, what is being designed?

The word "object" has several senses and meanings. The Webster’s New World Dictionary says:

Object: noun. 1. a thing that can be seen or touched; material thing that occupies space 2. a person or thing to which action, thought, or feeling is directed. 3. what is aimed at; purpose; end; goal. 4. Gram. a noun or other substantive that directly or indirectly receives the action of a verb, or one that is governed by a preposition. 5. Philos. anything that can be known or perceived by the mind 1. a thing that can be seen or touched; material thing that occupies space 2. a person or thing to which action, thought, or feeling is directed. 3. what is aimed at; purpose; end; goal. 4. Gram. a noun or other substantive that directly or indirectly receives the action of a verb, or one that is governed by a preposition. 5. Philos. anything that can be known or perceived by the mind

From these descriptions can be deducted that an object could be anything material or immaterial since it can be perceived by the mind, is aimed at, or receives the action of a verb.

It means that in a linguistic sense, designers do not design objects because an object could be anything, with or without finality. However, object also means purpose, end, goal. It could be confusing. Do designers design "things" or "end goals"?

Designing is an intentional activity. The teleological condition of the design activity means that everything we design has an objective, finality. Objectives are actions, and actions are represented using verbs.

Actions require actors and objects to which actions are directed. The actors are the active elements, the things that make possible and support the verb, and the verb’s actions are perceived by the things the action is acting on, the flows the direct complements.

This reflection is important because the main questions designers have to ask themselves are, what does object design mean? Am I designing objects?

Objects design means a lot, and the designer has to focus on a specific meaning, it is, has to think about the sense is giving to the word and of course, to the design action. A designer can design the objective, the thing that is going to support an existing action or the things to which those actions are directed. The three possibilities conduct the designer to different conceptual spaces and towards different types of solutions.

If designer is designing the support for a given action, is designing subjects, nouns, substantives, actors. If designer is designing the objective, a new action, is designing new approaches, new ways to do something (the designer could be imagining new adverbs for an action, or creating new verbs), is dreaming, is desiring. Finally, if the designer is designing the flows, the things that the actions are directed to, is designing new uses for a known actor, principle, or effect.

There are more approaches to these definitions. In spite of which sense the designer is giving to the "object", he/she is always designing a subject. If designer is using the first sense, it is clear that the verb’s supporter must be a subject. In the third case, the flow, the direct complement in a sentence is always a substantive, a noun, an object, a subject.

The third sense is a little bit more complex to analyze. Actions are impossible without a subject. Always, a new action implies a new actor or a new way to use the same actor. It is impossible to separate the actor of the action and vise versa.

The objects we design are intended to be used by a user. The object’s action and the way the user uses the object condition the user’s behavior, so the design process must consider the changes the designed object will produce on the user. Some products are based on this statement, the designer does not design the object itself but the user’s behavior, and the object is only a way to produce the expected effect, the designer is designing the user. Although this is true always - the designer is designing not only the actor, but also the user- , in most cases the designer is not aware of that. Here the essential point is the responsibility the designer has in the induced change on the behavior of an individual or a group.

The concept of life cycle, an ontogenic point of view.

The concept of product life cycle appears in a different way depending of the looking it is given. In marketing, such concept considers the product before its launching into the market –Introduction, growing, maturity, declining–. From a perspective of design, this concept has an ontogenic sense. It considers all the cycle of development of the product from its conception as an idea to its death, –when it is retired from the environment– and its postmortem processes, which consist in second uses, recycle, etc.

Is this vision of the life cycle what gives sense to the design methodics. It is to see in a time–axis all stages of the development of the product, and in a process–axis the activities, persons and methods that affect in one way or another the development of the product. It justifies the necessity of an effective strategy of design management.

Product characterization and imageries creation

Design from a functional perspective is a way to find a corporeal form, which must be responsible of the function and of a series of characteristics well defined by each one of the interveners in the process. Intervener could be anyone, from the person who makes the charge, designs, packs, sells, to whom is the user, the maintainer, etc. In the design process a kind of metamorphosis is produced, where the ideas are mutated until converted into a solution. All the characteristics of the charge are converted into characteristics of the solution in an epigenic process.

In addition, there are other functional characteristics that have not an exclusively functional sense –their sense is to create sense– and must be also object of design, not in the object itself, but in the subjects whom will use it.

The creation of sense is a subjective process. It can be done only by the mind of the subject who creates the sense. Sense is always a fact of culture, a product of culture. Although, in our society that fact of culture has been trivialized, naturalized. We only see in the world –at least in a conscious way– a practical world of uses and functions, a total dominance of the objects, when in reality we are in a world of sense created by those objects, which also dominate and condition our behavior. Those objects, being precedents of new ones, condition the way we will semantize future objects. This is because observation of the objects is a product of vivential experiences, of our epistemological background.

The sense creation brings out the creation of imageries constructed around the action of endowing objects with qualities. The process is given exclusively in the mental world; it is a subjective process, which is done in an individual and/or collective manner.

Exist then, two types of characteristics. Ones that exist in a real world and others that only exist in the mental world. Ones that in the moment of being observed, are independent of the observer, and others that depend of it. This differentiation is made in virtue of the recognition that by the game of the opposition is made between the mental–real, between the functional and the semantic.

The characteristics contain the sub–sets [[attributes–properties]–qualities]. The attributes and the properties are recognized by mere agreement, as objective characteristics existent in the real world. The qualities instead are assigned to the object by the subject who observes, they are which permit the creation of sense. The properties constitute the syntagms, which acquire sense in the context, –the contents of the text– such context is provided by the groups of significance in which the object is observed.

The properties correspond to a series of characteristic that –although have also been assigned in an arbitrary manner– have been constituted in commonly accepted patterns. The properties, or which is proper of the observed object are a product object’s materiality, of the corporification process to which have been submitted during the design process.

The attributes are that what is attributed to the object, which is said is capable of doing. The uses or functions which are recognized in the object. The function, the teleological contents of the object always underlay, it is given for granted, otherwise, the object can only acquire the sense of useless. The function is not willful. The function is imposed by the structure; it is fixed and determined by the designer.

Another category corresponds to those subjective characteristics, meaning to say, which depend on the opinion of the subject who observes them. For them there are not precise agreements defined, and only is possible to mention them by meaning of qualifying adjectives with no specific value. They are merely qualifying characteristics. Examples of them are pretty, ugly, red and generally, the values assigned to them are very, little, much, etc. Those characteristics are qualities.

The properties have a normative character making them cultural, historical and geographically independent. No matter what type of units are used in a determined environment, a property of length and volume will be always the same independent of where is the measure being taken, or who is doing it. This makes that it could be said that they are inherent to the observed object, they belong to it, they are owned by it because a standard gives such characteristics. The properties are determinable only by means of comparison processes with established patterns.

The qualities, on the other hand, are not assignables to the object itself. Due to its character of subjectives and dependent of the observer, of its imagery, of his socio–cultural formation only can be assigned to the meanings, to the referents, to the mental. The qualities do not exist in the object but in the subject who observe them. Something is elegant because somebody thinks it is, not because it is –in reality– elegant. Elegant would be then, a quality of the meaning, not a quality of the object.

The qualities depend of the subject who observes, and the subject can be individual or collective. The collective subjects are composed by individuals who share a common ideary, a group of significance. As long as the functions and the properties are determined by the structure and the materiality, it is in the qualities, which are conceded, where an influence on the perception of an object in semantic terms. All the semantics contained in an object is designed in the users, in the observers, and not in the object itself. They are designed by means of declarative acts in front of a collective. In reality, which is designed, is a group of significance, -the users–, which finally must coincide with the objective market of such object (product).

The construction of common idearies on a determined group is the generation of a kind of pseudo–rules highly dynamic, dependent of cultural, temporary and spatial environments. The concepts of aesthetics, elegance, beauty, change in the same time with cultural context changes and, in the same cultural context, with changes in time. What is elegant today, will not be tomorrow and what is in vogue today will be antiquated tomorrow. Which is modern today is archaic the next day and what is elegant to an Irish is extravagant for an American.


Value, Cost and appreciation

Value, cost and appreciation are characteristics that appear when appear, in the subject, actions like valuation, costing and appraising. In this context, to cost will correspond, in order to create an agreement, to endow with exchange value, to assign a price and appreciation, to endow with affective value, to esteem. The value and the esteem are characteristics of the objects than only exist in the existence of the subject who valuates or appreciates them.

Value is a combination of factors that involves the appreciation a subject has for something, his desire for its possession and what the current owner, had sacrificed for it, plus his own esteem for the object. It is just that sacrifices interchange what vitalizes the economy.

The economical value of the objects –price– is determined with reference to another. The desire of a subject for an object is reached by means of the sacrifice of any other object, which is at the same time, the object of desire of the second subject.

Given that the characteristics value, cost and appreciation have only sense in the case of objects that are, or could be, object of desire of any other subject, and because of it susceptible of a transaction or interchange, will have only sense in the merchandises. An uncomplete definition of merchandises cold be "objects with an interchange value, usually an economic value". The cost of the merchandises is not an inherent characteristic, but is a judgment about them emitted by subjects.

Simmel suggests that objects are not hard to acquire for its high value, we call valued those objects that resists our desire to posses them.

The sense of the qualities in market

A market could be modeled as a set of individuals; each of them elects whether or not to buy a product based on internal measures –personal judgements–. These internal measures enforce the election. The dimensions of these measures are valuation and appreciation.

Consistent with he concept that a force of behavior is what leads the individual election, the value is defined as the measure of the consumers election. Is the sum of its appreciation of the object plus which he/she is disposed to sacrifice for it –its price–.

This means that the design efforts must be oriented towards the increase of the perceived value of the product. It is not only about product design like transforming elements of flows (matter, energy, signal), like physical forms that supports a function. As aforesaid, cost is relative and must be always compared with something, as the weight must be compared with a patter (the scale). That something is value.

To remark the qualities in the objects by any mean, publicity in example, has the objective of making the value customers perceive in the objects to be as high as possible, in such a way that customers becomes disposed to sacrifice a lot to obtain them. Price will be then assigned based not only on the production costs, or the offer and demand curves, it will be assigned based on the meanings and value customers perceive in the product.

To achieve this, it indispensable to know the manner potential customers semantize our products. Studying their cultural identities using the model [N–M–C–O] will conduct design planners and marketing practitioners to a new kind of markets’ segmentation.

Geographic and psicographic segmentations are not enough when considering users that endows with meanings our products. It will be necessary to think in a new way to segment the market. It is the semantic segmentation.



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