Notion of Values

Topics: Value, Labor theory of value, Sociology Pages: 5 (1786 words) Published: July 29, 2011

Defining Value
The confusion on the use of the term value is not unique to design. It spans number of disciplines including economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology and marketing. Within this spectrum Graeber [10] identifies main approaches to the definition of value as: (1) the notion of ‘values’ as “conception of what is ultimately good, proper or desirable in human life”, (2) in economic and business sense a person’s willingness to pay the price of a good in terms of cash in return for certain product benefits, and (3) value as a meaning and meaningful difference, and (4) value as experience. The purpose here is neither to present an exhaustive list of uses of the term, nor to present a comprehensive review of approaches, but to explore how they come together in the domain of design.

Value as Enduring Belief System
An important distinction is made in the use of the term value in a singular and a plural form [9-10]. The sense of values in plural refers to personal beliefs. This notion of value is described by Rokeach [11] as “… an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence” Values are socially and culturally defined and justified standards that determine actions, preferences and attitudes including the ones towards objects. However, values are different from norms and attitudes in that “…they transcend specific situations and have to do with generalized modes of conduct (instrumental) and end states of existence (terminal). Attitudes are different, merely the surface, or more specific, manifestations of these underlying values”. Here the emphasis on the unchanging quality of values requires special attention as it seems conflicting with design. Herbert Simon [12] defined design as the process by which we devise “courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”. Such change often includes not only tangible products but also human behaviors and beliefs. That is especially evident in global markets where new products are introduced together with new messages, lifestyles and beliefs. So, if values have a durable nature how can technology and design introduce change without causing social friction? Is it possible, to establish a direct relationship between products and personal/social values?

Value as Exchange
Terms such as ‘consumer value’ or ‘customer value’ seem to examine the value concept within the human-artifact relation, providing more relevant ground for discussion in design. However, reviewing some of these definitions reveals that they are firmly placed within economic paradigm. Value is defined in terms of the monetary sacrifice people are willing to make for a product [3, 13-14]. The emphasis is on the point of exchange and cash is seen as a fundamental index of value. Such view is problematic for design as it overlooks the situation of product use. In the study on the assignment of value to fruit beverages, Zeithaml [14] points out that use related, non-monetary costs such as time and effort are important for users and should be acknowledged as well. In the evaluation of value participants brought up issues such as sales and coupons, but also the ease of reparation of juice, the amount wasted, and children’s willingness to drink the beverage. Marxist [15] theory provides a useful distinction here. It conceives a dual nature of the object value – use value and exchange value. Marx does not elaborate on the use value but sees object value primarily in terms of the labor necessary for its manufacture. Independent of the labor, use-value relates to the utility of the physical properties of the product, which is realized only upon its use. Clearly design is primarily concerned with use value. As such it has to deal with issues such as efficiency, performance and fit of the product to specific activities, tasks. It...
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