Making Markets

The Role of Design in the Process of Legitimation


  • Ashlee HUMPHREYS Northwestern University, USA
  • Sarah JS WILNER Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada
  • Aimee HUFF Oregon State University, USA



market emergence, legitimacy, product design, material culture


We examine the impact of design on the evolution of a product market from illicit to mainstream. We argue the importance of congruence with normative and cultural-cognitive structures in fostering legitimacy. To understand the role of product design in this process, we conducted an ethnographic study of the newly-legal recreational cannabis market in the US, a market that has attained regulatory acceptance in some states but lacks normative and cultural-cognitive legitimacy. By analysing product design and interviewing managers, we find that design plays a pivotal role in legitimation. Producers transform a market by manipulating two distinct aspects of materiality: material in relation – how products relate to accepted products, and material in use – how design guides and enables consumption. We offer a framework for managing products in new markets, arguing that design can enable legitimacy by drawing on symbolic relationships to other products, considering affordances, and enhancing strategic socio-cultural innovation.




How to Cite

HUMPHREYS , A. ., WILNER , S. J. ., & HUFF, A. (2019). Making Markets: The Role of Design in the Process of Legitimation. Conference Proceedings of the Academy for Design Innovation Management, 2(1), 1165–1177.