Symbolic Meaning Integration

Symbolic Meaning Integration in Design and its Influenceon Product and Brand Evaluation

Thomas J. L. van Rompay *, Ad T. H. Pruyn, and Peter Tieke
University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands

Previous research and theorizing in product design and consumer psychology testifies to the importance of congruence among symbolic meanings connoted through elements in visual communications such as advertisements, product appearance, and product packaging.
However, understanding of the processes whereby meaning congruence impacts consumer response is limited. In this paper, we propose a framework for understanding congruence effects in design based on recent studies addressing processing fluency. Based on these findings, the authors propose that incongruence thwarts impression formation of product and brand by inducing ambiguity, thereby negatively affecting attitude formation. However, research indicates that congruence effects may vary across consumers. Hence, in the experimental study presented, effects of ‘advertising slogan-product shape’ (in)congruence were studied as a function of consumers’ tolerance for information ambiguity. Results from this study indicate that incongruencies are particularity distressing for consumers with a low tolerance for ambiguity in everyday life. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Keywords – Congruence, Processing Fluency, Impression Formation, Symbolic Meaning, Consumer Needs.

Relevance to Design Practice – Results testify to the importance of careful selection of visual elements of consumer products and the symbolic meanings they connote. Specifically, they suggest that symbolic meanings connoted across product appearance might best be congruent in terms of the underlying theme in order to create a first favorable impression of product and brand.

Citation: Van Rompay, T. J. L., Pruyn, A. T. H., & Tieke, P. (2009). Symbolic meaning integration in design and its influence on product and brand evaluation.

International Journal of Design, 3(2), 19-26.

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