The Role of Design in the Process of Legitimation
Keywords: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.