Design as rhetoric

Systematic product design and creation

Rhetoric is often defined as oratory or even as persuasion. Through the skilful choice of words the recipient should be moved to a particular opinion or emotion. If the art of suggestion is defined as a kind of rhetoric, then one can regard the process of product design as a rhetorical act of design. The aim of this “act” is to convince all parties involved, from the client to the consumer, through an effective design language. Certainly the challenge here is to generate this ideal state through an honest product design that is ecologically and economically convincing. The product design should persuade through its aesthetics, longevity, a high degree of innovation, effectiveness and no need for explanation. To achieve this, a goal-oriented design planning and execution is necessary. The general system of ancient rhetoric can be applied to this process, which was originally used as a collection of rules and techniques for verbal expression.

A short summary of the rhetorical systematics:

  1. intellectio (Latin knowledge, interpretation): Transferred to the product design process, this is the first research and goal setting phase. After detailed targeting and briefing workshops, market and product analysis, a catalogue of requirements is created that accompanies the entire design process.
  2. inventio (Latin finding): For the respective design tasks several requirement-oriented basic concepts and design ideas are outlined in design workshops. First functional prototypes, ergonomic models and mock-ups are created.
  3. disposito (Latin selection, arrangement): In this phase it is necessary to make a decision together with the client for the follow-up in the product design process. The concepts are checked for technical, economic, aesthetic and ecological requirements.
  4. elocutio (Latin execution): Finally, the design is further detailed and elaborated in CAD. Here, the technical requirements such as wall thickness, demoulding incline and mould separation are taken into account. The results of this phase are defined in terms of design, so that the technical-constructive elaboration of the product can be started afterwards.
  5. actio (Latin effect): Relates to the effect of a project, which is tested in a test phase through an open dialogue with the target group.

Conclusion: From my point of view, the rhetorical principles can be transferred very well to the product design process and are very similar in approach to other agile innovation processes.