Notion of Values

NOTION OF VALUES Defining Value The confusion on the use of the term value is not unique to design. It spans number of disciplines including economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology and marketing. Within this spectrum Graeber [10] identifies main approaches to the definition of value as: (1) the notion of ‘values’ as “conception of what is ultimately good, proper or desirable in human life”, (2) in economic and business sense a person’s willingness to pay the price of a good in terms of cash in return for certain product benefits, and (3) value as a meaning and meaningful difference, and (4) value as experience.

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The purpose here is neither to present an exhaustive list of uses of the term, nor to present a comprehensive review of approaches, but to explore how they come together in the domain of design. Value as Enduring Belief System An important distinction is made in the use of the term value in a singular and a plural form [9-10]. The sense of values in plural refers to personal beliefs.

This notion of value is described by Rokeach [11] as “… an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence” Values are socially and culturally defined and justified standards that determine actions, preferences and attitudes including the ones towards objects. However, values are different from norms and attitudes in that “…they transcend specific situations and have to do with generalized modes of conduct (instrumental) and end states of existence (terminal).

Attitudes are different, merely the surface, or more specific, manifestations of these underlying values”. Here the emphasis on the unchanging quality of values requires special attention as it seems conflicting with design. Herbert Simon [12] defined design as the process by which we devise “courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”. Such change often includes not only tangible products but also human behaviors and beliefs. That is especially evident in global markets where new products are introduced together with new messages, lifestyles and beliefs.

So, if values have a durable nature how can technology and design introduce change without causing social friction? Is it possible, to establish a direct relationship between products and personal/social values? Value as Exchange Terms such as ‘consumer value’ or ‘customer value’ seem to examine the value concept within the human-artifact relation, providing more relevant ground for discussion in design. However, reviewing some of these definitions reveals that they are firmly placed within economic paradigm. Value is defined in terms of the monetary sacrifice people are willing to make for a product [3, 13-14].

The emphasis is on the point of exchange and cash is seen as a fundamental index of value. Such view is problematic for design as it overlooks the situation of product use. In the study on the assignment of value to fruit beverages, Zeithaml [14] points out that use related, non-monetary costs such as time and effort are important for users and should be acknowledged as well. In the evaluation of value participants brought up issues such as sales and coupons, but also the ease of reparation of juice, the amount wasted, and children’s willingness to drink the beverage. Marxist [15] theory provides a useful distinction here.

It conceives a dual nature of the object value – use value and exchange value. Marx does not elaborate on the use value but sees object value primarily in terms of the labor necessary for its manufacture. Independent of the labor, use-value relates to the utility of the physical properties of the product, which is realized only upon its use. Clearly design is primarily concerned with use value. As such it has to deal with issues such as efficiency, performance and fit of the product to specific activities, tasks. It has to make sure that objects function as extensions of human body and mind [16] and that they fulfill actual needs.

In establishing the relation between value and needs, however, it shouldn’t be forgotten that “we experience all needs (including physical ones) within cultures” [17]. For example, each culture has its own way of cleaning the body which in turn reflects to the assessment of what is useful in the design of bathroom. For example, while in western culture a bathtub designed for lying is valued, in Japanese culture a smaller one accommodating sitting posture is more beneficial, and in Turkish culture bathtub is not functional at all because cleaning oneself should involve running water.

On the other hand, design is also concerned with exchange value by making products chosen, distinguishing them from competitive ones and reducing prices. However, taken to extremes this may result in churning out products with superfluous differences in forms and materials aiming only to simulate desires [18]. The relation between value and desire is developed by Simmel [19]. He suggests looking at how much one desires or fears of loosing a product as an indicator of its value. Accordingly, high value is attributed to something that is desired by many by subject to scarcity.

Simmel [19] talks of value and price almost interchangeably here. Yet, there are range of objects such as gifts which are neither scarce nor high priced or utilitarian, nevertheless are highly valued. The theory of value as exchange seems to overlook this group of objects. Here we need to turn to approaches to value that take into account the symbolic meanings that can be attributed to goods. Value as a Meaning and Difference According to the notion of value as a meaningful difference something takes on meaning and value only by contrasting with other elements in the same system [9].

Notice that meaning and value are used almost interchangeably. “Meaning is a cognitively constructed relationship. It selectively connects features of an object and features of its (real environment or imagined) context into a coherent unity. ” [20]. Since value relates to meaning it is similarly understood in a context of other things, situations, and users. The so called global products, for example, can gain value only in the local context. A point well illustrated by Whirlpool’s attempt to introduce its global washer to Indian market.

The product faced failure because of its lack of consideration of different types of Indian clothing, and the unstable infrastructure. Saris and other clothes which are nothing but long pieces of fabric would catch and tear in their washing machine [21, 22]. The notion of value as meaning and meaningful difference calls for consideration not only of the physical contexts in which products are used but also of how they are made sense of. Csikszentmihalyi’s [23] study illustrates the huge capacity of people to invest objects with meanings that sometimes have nothing to do with their utility and meanings prescribed by the producers [23].

People often value objects not for what they do, or what they are made of but for what they signify. In Veblen’s [24] conception of conspicuous consumption’ for example, goods serve as an index of social status. Bourdieu [25] sees that interaction with goods can serve as a means of ‘capital’ accumulation, namely economic (e. g. cash and assets), cultural (e. g. knowledge, skills, formal education), social (e. g. networks of interpersonal relations) and symbolic (the honor and prestige accumulated through one’s practices). In some societies the latter can be even more useful.

Baudrillard [26] claims that such sign value displaces use value and exchange value. Indeed, it is quite common that people in developing countries buy western goods not only for their utility but because of their association with modernity and lifestyles of their purveyors. An example of such consumption may be found among the Muria Gonds where “the richer fisherman were spending their excess earnings to purchase unusable television sets [having no access to electricity], to build ‘garages’ onto houses to which no automobiles had access, and to install rooftop cisterns into which water never flows” [27].

Global and multinational companies have been relaying and fostering aspiration toward western goods as a mean for boosting sales. However, more and more local businesses, such as the Malaysian Joleebee or Indian Arvind Mills, successfully compete against global giants with products which better resonate with local ways of life [28-29]. Value as an Experience It is clear that in relating value to design it is difficult to assume one of the definitions reviewed so far as encompassing. As Graeber [10] rightfully points, each one has fallen into problems for lack of sufficient consideration of the others.

A potential for reconciling the different approaches is offered by the perspective of value as action or experience. Drawing on Munn’s [30] work, Graeber [10] suggests that the value of goods arises from the consequences they provide or have potential to provide. OXO Good Grips potato peeler, for instance, is valued not for its material properties but because these properties lead to easy and comfortable peeling experience. As, Cagan and Vogel point the better the experience, the greater the value of the product to the user [31].

Moreover, people are willing to pay much more for products providing better experience [32]. Need for distinguishing product from competitive ones, make them desirable Need to meet specific needs and ways of doing things Need for understanding of local context and social- cultural meanings Need for understanding activities contexts, meanings, and beliefs which make experience Experiences are defined as “events that engage individuals in a personal way” [8]. In fact any time people interact with product they engage in experience.

Experiences are context and situation specific – changing from one set of immediate circumstances, time and location to another. So is the value [33]. Consider the example of owning an automobile. Having a car in a small US town provides a convenience, increase accessibility to different places, such as stores, sites of interest etc. However, the same car in a metropolitan city like New York, where parking spaces are virtually unavailable and traffic is dense, is a burden and restricts one’s capability to move around.

Then, compatibility with the context, which includes a range of tangible and intangible systems is necessary. Experiences with product also relate to the meaning they add to people’s lives, in terms of symbolism. Looking to a rare piece of art can be the experience of a lifetime. Yet, only for a person who comes from socially and culturally defined system that assigns significance to art. Value as experience does not provide an exclusive alternative to other definitions, but rather encompasses many aspects of them. Table 1 compares the different approaches to value.

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