Ethos-Intensive Objects: Toward a Methodological Framework for Identifying Complex Client Cultures

Dana Vaux, David Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Along with other design professionals in a globalizing world, interior designers are serving clients who are increasingly complex. Understanding exactly whom design professionals are designing for now requires more than just developing a program; it requires the designer to comprehend the multiple layers of a client's culture. Clients tend less to be individuals, but rather institutions and corporations, and even the smaller ones among these may well have international scope. This increased complexity has also rendered the client culture more sophisticated. Questions arise as to how a designer can offer solutions that truly fit a client's needs. This paper proposes a method that frames ethnographic data into design programs through the identification of Ethos-Intensive Objects (EIOs). EIOs are culturally descriptive, case-specific objects that encompass multiple levels of meaning linked to human lived experiences associated with physical attributes, human activities, and human narratives of a specific cultural context. Identifying EIOs allows designers to develop more accurate design programs by enabling them to see the client's world through the client's eyes. This paper begins by defining EIOs, clarifying how they bridge the gap between cultural data and the design program, and then provides examples of EIOs in three case study samples. First, a historical example in the literature makes a broad case for the utility of EIOs as cultural identifiers. Next, an example from the design literature illustrates design ethnographic methods from an EIO point of view. Finally, an analysis from an interiors venue provides a prototypical example for EIOs in a design practice setting. In sum, the paper argues for a way by which designers can comprehend client cultures through EIOs and empirically frame the cultural experiences embedded in these objects into understandable and operational frameworks for the purposes of informing design programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-27
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Interior Design
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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