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Recoding abandoned products: Student visual designers learn to sustain product lives and values

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This article outlines the development, delivery and evaluation of a student project for visual communicators in a second-year teaching unit where students are learning about the communication contexts of product value and consumer attachment to commodities, shortening product life cycles and design's contribution to material and symbolic waste. The student exercise is part of a pedagogical strategy to seed education about sustainable design practices and was developed in response to an ongoing research project titled On Wearing. One of the recommendations of this project is to investigate the role of Visual Communication Design in supporting more enduring relationships with existing products. The students were asked to employ the visual strategy of 'recoding' to reconceptualize abandoned products, a strategy of manipulating signs to suggest new values more aligned with the interests of sustainability. Recoding is a political semiotic strategy that draws upon the practice of 'culture jamming', a form of aesthetic subversion that destabilizes the meaning of corporate branding through the clever manipulation of visual signs. Here, we explore recoding as a value-creation strategy that could model and support more enduring relationships between products and people. This article reflects on the students' creative responses to the challenges of recoding within a learning context and evaluates the project's ability to advance the research findings, namely the potential for visual communications to function as a form of symbolic salvage and support for practices of resource recovery and reuse.
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Keywords: culture jamming; product lifetime extension; recoding; sustainability; user/use practices; visual communication education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Western Sydney

Publication date: 26 October 2012

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  • How can art, design and communication aid teaching? Do these teaching methods work better in certain fields of study? Focusing on arts and media-based subjects, and encompassing all areas of higher education, this journal reveals the potential value of new educational styles and creative teaching methods.

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