Transforming the Object in Product Design
Product design is a process in which multiple understandings of technology and society are transformed into characteristics of a product, into skills found in the design team, and finally, into scripts that prefigure the use of the technology. Because of its particular concern with mutual transformations of objects, social collectives and subjects, activity theory seems a potentially powerful framework for analyzing the complexity of product design work. I utilize the concepts of motive and object of activity to analyze an innovation process in a small high-tech company. This analysis shows that engagement with the novel objects in the design process led to a significant transformation in the expertise, organization of work and dominant motive of the work community. In theoretical terms, the analysis suggests an alternative to the idea that an activity has one objectified motive which is instantiated in an object in the material world. It may be sensible to analyze product design as poly-motivated and its motives as instantiated in a number of different project-objects.