Product Semantic Analysis (PSA)

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A semantic scale that is built for each evaluation case separately via user interviews and by using product semantics as the theoretical basis.


Identifying and evaluating the semantic qualities of products have most often been dealt with in an intuitive manner. In order to design products with specific, desired semantic qualities, product developers’ methods and tools need to support the identification of consumers’ requirements as well as the evaluation of a product’s. The theoretical basis is product semantics. Product semantics have been defined as “…. the study of the symbolic qualities of man-made forms in the cognitive and social context of their use and application of knowledge gained to objects of industrial design.” (Krippendorff & Butter 1984). According to this definition, product semantics concerns the relationship between, on the one hand, the user and the product and, on the other, the importance that artefacts assume in an operational and social context. Mono? (1997) has chosen to describe the product as a kind of trinity. The first dimension, the ergonomic whole includes everything that concerns the adjustment of the design to human physique and behaviour when using the product; the technical whole stands for the technical function of the product, its construction and production; and, finally the third aspect, the communicative whole, designates the product’s ability to communicate with users and its adjustment to human perception and intellect (Mono? 1997). Through the product gestalt (i.e. the totality of colour, material, surface structure, taste, sound, etc. appearing and functioning as a whole), the product communicates a message, which is received and interpreted by the customer/user. This message is, according to Mono? (1997), ‘created’ by four semantic functions:


The PSA method provides a structured process in which the desired qualities can be identified and described in terms of a desired product semantic profile, and the design solution evaluated and compared against the desired profile. The PSA method contains several steps; interviews with customers, construction of semantic scale, consumer/user ratings by means of scale etc. The distinctive feature is the way these steps are combined. The PSA method has a thorough theoretical basis. The PSA does not rely so heavily on statistics as do, e.g., the Kansei methodology.


The method has so far only been used to address visual aspects (April 2006). Research activities have begun to evaluate approach product expressions from a haptic perspective.

References describing the method

Karlsson M A & Wikstro?m L (1999): Beyond Aesthetics! Competitor Advantage by an Holistic Approach to Product Design. In Proceedings from the 6th International Product Development Management Conference, Cambridge July 5-6, 1999, p. 629 -638
Wikstro?m, L (2002): Produktens budskap. Metoder fo?r va?rdering av produkters semantiska funktioner ur ett anva?ndarperspektiv. (Product messages. Methods for the evaluation of semantic functions of products from a user perspective), Department of Product and Production Development, Chalmers University of Technology, Go?teborg. In Swedish.