Stakeholder interpretations of design: semiotic insights into the briefing process

William Collinge, Chris Harty

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Briefing phase interactions between clients and designers are recognized as social engagements, characterized by communicative sign use, where conceptual ideas are gradually transformed into potential design solutions. A semiotic analysis of briefing communications between client stakeholders and designers provides evidence of the significance and importance of stakeholder interpretation and understanding of design, empirical data being drawn from a qualitative study of NHS hospital construction projects in the UK. It is contended that stakeholders engage with a project through communicative signs and artefacts of design, referencing personal cognitive knowledge in acts of interpretation that may be different from those of designers and externally appointed client advisers. Such interpretations occur in addition to NHS client and design team efforts to ‘engage’ with and ‘understand’ stakeholders using a variety of methods. Social semiotic theorizations indicate how narrative strategies motivate the formulation of signs and artefacts in briefing work, the role of sign authors and sign readers being elucidated as a result. Findings are contextualized against current understandings of briefing communications and stakeholder management practices, a more socially attuned understanding of breifing countering some of the process-led improvement models that have characterized much of the post-Egan report literature. A stakeholder interpretation model is presented as one potential method to safeguard against unforeseen interpretations occurring, the model aligning with the proposal for a more measured recognition of how designs can trigger interpretations among client stakeholders.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)760-772
    Number of pages12
    JournalConstruction management and economics
    Issue number7-8
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2014


    • briefing
    • Cognition
    • communication
    • Semiotics
    • Stakeholders


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