research project

The SeFun project
examines how industrial design products communicate with users in various contexts. Product communication is conceived as interaction between products and users. Interpretation of visual qualities will be emphasized. For this purpose the approaches of visual semiotics will be discussed and further developed. Laboratory studies and qualitative case studies are carried out to gather empirical data.
The project started in January 2004.

SeFun project is part of the Industrial design research programme (2003-2007) of the Academy of Finland.

SeFun International Seminar
& 6th Nordcode seminar and workshop
Helsinki June 6-8 2007

5th Nordcode seminar and workshop
Oslo, 10-12 May 2006

Research in Dialogue with Artistic Production,
doctoral seminar
University of Art and Design Helsinki, February 8-9 2006

4th Nordcode Seminar & Workshop
“Common denominators”

Trondheim, May 18-20 2005 Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Teollisen muotoilun bilateraalinen jatkokoulutusseminaari: Merkitys, käytettävyys, vuorovaikutus" (Signification, Usability, Interaction in Design)
December 1-2 2004 University of Art and Design Helsinki
Organised by SeFun and Emergence of Luxury projects
Proceedings online

3rd Nordcode Seminar & Workshop “Design communication”
Lyngby, April 28-30 2004 Technical University of Denmark

2nd Nordcode Seminar & Workshop
“Semantic & aesthetic functions in design”
Helsinki/Espoo, October 1-3 2003 University of Art and Design Helsinki & Helsinki University of Technology 



Karjalainen, Toni-Matti Snelders, Dirk (2008, forthcoming) Designing Visual Recognition for the Brand Accepted to Journal of Product Innovation Management

Person, Oscar; 
Schoormans, Jan; Snelders, Dirk & Karjalainen, Toni-Matti (2008, forthcoming)
Complementing intuition: Insights on styling as a strategic tool Design Studies
, in press.


Person, Oscar;  Snelders, Dirk; Karjalainen, Toni-Matti & Schoormans, Jan (2007) Complementing intuition: Insights on styling as a strategic tool Journal of Marketing Management, Vol 23, No 9-10. 901-916.

Karjalainen, Toni-Matti (2007) It Looks Like a Toyota: Educational Approaches to Designing for Visual Brand Recognition International Journal of Design, 1(1)


Karjalainen, Toni-Matti
Strategic Concepts in the Automotive Industry In Keinonen & Takala (eds.), "Tuotekonseptointi". Product Concept Design - A Review of the Conceptual Design of Products in Industry. Springer Verlag. 133-155

KarjalainenToni-Matti & Repokari, Lauri  (2006) Challenges of cross-Atlantic project collaboration in design education 9th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education Newcastle, UK, September 13-14, 2007

KarjalainenToni-Matti; Rahe, Ulrike; Ljungman, Ida; Lodin, Karin & Starodub, Karolina (2006)
“NOYO - CREATING YOUR EXPERIENCE” - A case study on the creation of affective brand script and visual product identity Design & Emotion Conference Gothenburg, September 26-29, 2006

KarjalainenToni-Matti (2006)
The Appearance of "Active Fashion" - Semantic mapping of the Nokia 5100 design process 13TH INTERNATIONAL PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE Milan, June 11-13, 2006

Person, Oscar; KarjalainenToni-Matti; Schoormans, Jan & Snelders, Dirk (2006)
The effect of market conditions on product styling strategies 35th EMAC Conference: Sustainable Marketing Leadership Athens, May 23-26, 2006

Turpeinen, Outi (2006) The interplay of art and research. In  Mäkelä Maarit and Routarinne Sara "The art of research". Research practices in art and design". University of Art and Design. Helsinki.

Turpeinen, Outi (2006) Recombining ideas from art and cultural history museums in
theory and practice
Nordisk museology 2/2006


KarjalainenToni-Matti (2005) Semantic Mapping of Design Processes 6th international conference of the European Academy of Design Bremen, Germany, 29-31 March 2005

KarjalainenToni-Matti (2005) Safe Shoulders and Personal Faces - Transforming Brand Strategy to Product Design 12th International Product Development Management Conference Copenhagen, Denmark, 12-14 June 2005

KarjalainenToni-Matti & Repokari, Lauri (2005) A Quest for Product Messages - Explorative research setting for analysing the communicative design aspects of mobile phones in the usability laboratory HCI International 2005 Las Vegas, USA, 22-27 July 2005

KarjalainenToni-Matti & Warell, Anders (2005) Do You Recognise This Tea Flask? - Transformation of brand-specific product identity through visual design cues International Design Congress - IASDR 2005 Taiwan, 31 October - 4 November 2005

Karjalainen, Toni-Matti
Monialainen muotoilunäkemys yritystoiminnan kulmakivenä 
Avista 2/2005. 11.

, Toni-Matti
Tuotteiden merkitykselliset muodot: Tuotemuotoilu ja brändi yrityksen strategiankulmakivinä
Economic Trends 1/2005. 26-30.

Karjalainen, Toni-Matti
Design Essay: Do you recognise that car? Car Design News July 15 2005.

Karjalainen, Toni-Matti (ed.) (2005) Design Communication. Report and selected papers from the 3rd Nordcode seminar & workshop. University of Art and Design Helsinki, Working papers F30.

Turpeinen, Outi (2005).  Nykytaide vierailulla kulttuurihistoriallisessa museossa. Toim. Levanto, Naukkarinen, Vihma: "Taiteistuminen", Taideteollinen korkeakoulu, Helsinki

Turpeinen, Outi (2005) Merkityksellinen museoesine. Visuaalinen kriittisyys kulttuurihistoriallisen museon näyttelysuunnittelussa Taideteollinen korkeakoulu, Helsinki

Turpeinen, Outi
(2005).  Researching the visual qualities of exhibition design through experimental and cross-disciplinary methods In the making, conference proceedings, Copenhagen

Turpeinen, Outi & Vihma, Susann
(eds.) (2005). Proceedings from the seminar on Signification, Usability, and Interaction in DESIGN. Online version. University of Art and Design, Helsinki, Finland 1-2.12. 2004.


KarjalainenToni-Matti (2004) Semantic transformation in design. Communicating strategic brand identity through product design references University of Art and Design Helsinki More information

Toni-Matti (2004)
Transforming strategic brand identity to product design references FUTUREGROUND Design Research Society International Conference Melbourne, Australia, 17-21 November 2004

Karjalainen, Toni-Matti (2004) Autoteollisuuden muotoilukonseptit - esimerkkinä Volvo [In Finnish, "Design concepts of the car industry - case Volvo"] In Keinonen & Jääskö (eds.), "Tuotekonseptointi". Teknologiainfo Teknova Oy, Helsinki. 173-197 [see Teknova]

Karjalainen, Toni-Matti
Tuotemuotoilu brandin strategisen identiteetin tukena [In Finnish, "Product design as support of strategic brand identity] In “Design Management - Yrityskuvan Johtaminen”. Kymidesign, Kouvola. 80-89 [see Kymidesign > "julkaisut"]

Laakso, Mikko & Repokari, Lauri (2004) Design and Evaluation of Seamless and Transparent Middleware Proceedings of the FUTUREGROUND Design Research Society International Conference. Melbourne, Australia, 17-21 November 2004

Laakso, Mikko (2004) Usability Issues in Virtual Environment Navigation. Licentiate's Thesis, Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo, Finland.

Vihma, Susann (ed.): Semantic & Aesthetic Functions in Design. Working Papers Series F 28, University of Art and Design Helsinki , Helsinki , 2004, 3-5.


Decode Research Group


Academy of Finland
The project aims at combining research on industrial design and semiotic product functions. For this purpose, a research group has been formed that brings together experts from design, semiotics, cognitive psychology and engineering. Education at the master’s degree level and research training at both the University of Art and Design Helsinki (UIAH) and the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) already include these fields. However, even though more or less the same concepts have been used, thus far, research has been carried out separately within each discipline. A conceptual framework that would argue for integration of the viewpoints is missing.

A new research group has been established to carry out theoretical work in connection with analyses of laboratory and case studies. The internationally recognized research in design semiotics carried out at UIAH  will be continued. One of the initiatives has been the formation of an interdisciplinary research group called Meaning of Form in 1998. With this new project, called SeFun, a methodological approach will be opened towards usability and technological research together with the Decode Research Group at HUT. The SeFun project will thus strengthen an important field of design research and will aim at furthering researcher training.

The main objective is to enhance the understanding and applicability of semiotic product functions. The project will argue for relevant concepts and develop methods for analyzing these functions. It will start by scrutinizing relevant theoretical approaches (specifically within semiotics and cognitive psychology).

A frame of reference for design studies has earlier been operationalized on the basis of Charles S. Peirce’s semiotic philosophy. Accordingly, visual representation, interaction and communication can be studied on many levels, including the sensual or imaginative, the actually physical and the symbolic.  The combination of these levels seems to be a promising approach for design research because it takes both materiality and representation into consideration. Habits of action are not conceived as fixed rules, nor does the interpretation aim at fixing positions. The aim is rather to clarify arguments for interpretation and study their conceptual bases. In this project the theoretical approach will be further applied and broadened into closely related fields. For example, the aesthetic value of products will be of concern in the analyses because semiotics as the study of representation does not cover the analyses of appreciation and desirability. New insights will be obtained by combining perspectives of different research fields with the help of the literature.

The constitution of the conceptual framework will be established in connection with laboratory experiments, field studies and qualitative case studies that produce quantitative data for the analyses and link empirical findings to theoretical argumentation. The perception and interpretation of products, and their interaction with users will be documented at the usability laboratory (HUT)  and analyzed in the context of use with the help of sample material. Knowledge about semiotic product functions is needed, especially in product categories that combine industrial design with new technologies.

personal homepages:
Toni-Matti Karjalainen

Outi Turpeinen
Mikko Laakso

The research group consists of six researchers. The deliberate aim has been to form a new group with relevant educational backgrounds in order to achieve the research objectives and to include researchers at different stages of their careers. Gender distribution has been considered, and the same principle will be held during the choice of tutors, the scientific committee and experts.

susann Susann Vihma
Professor, Dr.of Arts UIAH (design semiotics),
docent at the University of Lapland (design history and design semiotics)
Person in charge of research

Lauri Repokari
Tech.Lic., doctoral candidate HUT, MA (cogn.sci.)
Researcher, responsible for HUT activities

Toni-Matti Karjalainen
Dr. of Arts (Art & Design), M.Sc.(econ.)
Researcher, UIAH & HUT

outi   Outi Turpeinen

Dr. of Arts (Art & Design)

Mikko Laakso
Tech.Lic., M.Sc.(eng.), doctoral candidate HUT

Dagmar Steffen
MA (design), doctoral student,
Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach & University of Wuppertal

will carry out a work period in Finland and link the project
to research in Germany and distinguished experts in the field


work packages

Read more about the contents of by clicking the image.



The project will pursue close relationships to Finnish and international research groups. Such relationships are especially important for improving cooperation between the small groups to increase the effectiveness of researcher training. Established research contacts include the following institutions, which work closely within the field of semiotic product functions:

University of Art and Design Helsinki UIAH, Department of Visual Culture (Dr. Vihma) and Department of Design
Helsinki University of Technology (HUT), Department of Computer Science (Professor Nieminen)
University of Lapland, Faculty of Art and Design (Professor Kettunen)
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, Product and Production Development (Dr. Warell)
Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk vid Göteborgs universitet (Dr. Wikström)
Goldsmith College at University of London, Department of Design (Professor Woolley)
Eindhoven University of Technology, Faculty of Industrial Design
(Associate professor Overbeeke)
Wako University in Tokyo, Design Semiotics (Professor Kawama)

These scholars will form a scientific committee for the project.


A central task of the project will be to establish an active research network at the Nordic level. In 2000, a planning meeting to start a network was organized in Gothenburg. It was initiated by Susann Vihma and partly financed by the Nordic Academy for Advanced Study (Norfa). Following this, the Nordic Network for research on Communicative Product Qualities (Nordcode), an initiative of the Meaning of Form Research Group (UIAH) and the Department of Design Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology, was established and a grounding seminar was organized in March 10-11, 2003 in Gothenburg.

The SeFun group hosted the second Nordcode seminar and workshop in October 1-3, 2003 in Helsinki/Espoo. Between 2003 and 2007, the SeFun project will function as a key activity of the Nordcode network, encouraging research cooperation of the Nordcode members. The annual Nordcode seminars will be important parts of the SeFun project.


work packages

The results of the research will contribute internationally to design research by clarifying and deepening the theoretical foundations of industrial design. The results will also be applied in industrial design and engineering science education at the university level. Moreover, the results are expected to improve communication between partners within the product development process and also the strategic management of industrial design. Furthermore, the overall aim of the project is to produce knowledge to improve the quality of the built environment.

The conceptual framework and methods for analyses will be presented in an anthology that will function as the basis for the critical scrutiny and evaluation of the results at an international conference to be organized in 2007. The anthology will aim at gathering together the most recent and relevant research done internationally on design semiotics and applications.

After the project, a handbook will be written predominantly for design students, companies and institutions on the basis of the research results.


Susann Vihma

tel. +358 (0)9 756 30 364

Department of Visual Culture
University of Art And Design Helsinki
Hämeentie 135 C

Lauri Repokari
tel. +358 (0)50 367 5979

Toni-Matti Karjalainen
tel. +358 (0)50 357 4047

for comments on this page, contact Toni-Matti Karjalainen