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The Development of a Visual Reference Database for Product Designers' Use

Chun-ting Wu , Malcolm Johnston

Sources of inspiration play an important role in the design process, both in defining the context for designs and in informing the creation of individual designs. The initial study of this research is to understand the role visual references currently play within the design process, in order to develop a classification of image types and reference keywords to construct an electronic image database for professional use in product design.

A series of interviews to product design professionals and a workshop were carried out as part of this research. It identified that product images form the majority of visual references used by designers as they provide more context than other images.

According to the survey, to understand the sources of inspiration, visual references could be classified from three different aspects:
1. Function of images: reasons why designers use images, e.g. communication, inspiration
2. Content of images: what is an image physically presenting
3. Context of images: additional information conveyed by the image

The information derived from the classification is then analysed into tangible and conceptual categories; for example, colour and material are tangible categories, and characteristic and value are conceptual categories. Tangible properties are readily stored in the database using standard descriptors whereas conceptual properties require keywords that identify properties of emotions and characteristics.

In summary, the research shows how a framework of keywords, which identifies the tangible and conceptual qualities of images in the database, has been developed.


product design, Visual language, Visual references, emotion, Characteristic