“Digging for Meaning”: The Effect of a Designer’s Expertise and Intention on Depth of Product Metaphors

Nazlı Cila, Paul Hekkert, Valentijn Visch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In the product-design domain, metaphors are used as a means of communication between designers and users. A designer generates a metaphor by deciding on a quality of a target to highlight and selecting a corresponding source that conveys this quality; the user interprets the designer’s intentions via the end product. The depth of the generated metaphor can be assessed by the extent to which the highlighted quality is salient for the target: Metaphors focusing on a salient quality of the target are termed “surface” metaphors, whereas those focusing on a non-salient quality are called “deep” metaphors. In this article, we investigated both the effect of the expertise level of the designer (i.e., novice or expert) and different types of intention (i.e., pragmatic or experiential) on metaphor depth, through a study in which groups of expert and novice designers were asked to generate metaphors and external judges evaluated the depth of the metaphors created. Results indicated that having a pragmatic intention or being a novice designer led to the generation of surface metaphors, whereas having experiential intentions or being an expert facilitated the generation of deeper metaphors. Detailed observations are included regarding the nature of decisions made during the product metaphor generation process that produce comprehensible and aesthetically pleasing metaphors. Additionally, our findings have implications for metaphor research and design practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-277
Number of pages21
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


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