Figures of Speech as Semantic Operators in the Innovation Process

Claudio Dell’Era, Tommaso Buganza, Roberto Verganti

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Purpose – Product functionalities aim to satisfy the operative needs of the customer, while product meanings (i.e. the emotion and the symbolic values represented by the product) aim to satisfy the emotional and socio-cultural needs of the customer. What consumers are increasingly looking for in consumer products are new forms of psychological satisfaction that go beyond normal and simple consumption; today, more than ever, products define their own presence not only through their attributes, but also through the meanings that they assume, through the dialogue that they establish with the user, and also through the symbolic nature that they emanate. Figures of speech can be exploited to emphasise a message or a meaning. The purpose of this paper is to propose an application of rhetorical figures to product design that will make them more communicative.

    Design/methodology/approach – Specifically, the authors propose the “Rhetorical Innovation Process” as a methodology that foresees the application of figures of speech as semantic operators. First, the authors discuss several product innovations that can be interpreted according to the “Rhetorical Innovation Process”. Then, a brief workshop assignment in the strategic design course at the Faculty of Industrial Design of Politecnico di Milano explored the potentialities of the method in relation to different product typologies: 40 Italian master students were divided into eight groups (five industrial design students each) in order to develop five products per group.

    Findings – The results obtained by design students demonstrated as figures of speech can stimulate associations with other contexts and modifications to existing architecture. The exploration of the “rhetorical innovation process” in collaboration with eight design student teams has shown that this method can support and enrich the concept generation phase. Moreover, four configurations proposed by the “rhetorical innovation process” allow one to generate different alternatives supporting the creative process and allowing the identification of strengths and weaknesses associated to each solution.

    Originality/value – The method described in the paper elucidates the structure and process adopted by several designers and also illustrates an effective framework for communicating choices to their clients. In particular, the cross-context associations proposed in the “rhetorical innovation process” provide additional insights and incentives during the concept generation.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEuropean Journal of Innovation Management
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)155-171
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Product Design
    • Innovation
    • Rhetoric
    • Semantics

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