C. J. Abend, "Product Appearance as Communication," Sensory Evaluation of Appearance of Materials: a symposium sponsored by ASTM Committee E-12 on Appearance of Materials, and Committee E-18 on Sensory Evaluation of Materials and Products, 1973, American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia


An object which most exemplifies appearance as communication is the hand ax.... Let us look at the form of the head.

1. It is sharp at one end indicating it is a blade and can cut or penetrate. The width of the blade infers, not only that it is a working surface, but the size of the work possible; the position of the head, relative to the line of the handle, establishes the direction of work. The naked head and its edge are direct about its function because it is exposed, thus, identifies an aspect of hazard; it does not encourage one to grasp this object by the blade.

2. Another form factor is the pointed and wedge shape of the head which is directional and arrow-like in nature; this is a further visual clue with respect to directio of work. The back of the head is blunt which reveals thickness and heft; massiveness, and potential inertia are made visible. The head, composed of metal, probably iron or steel, reveals a characteristic metal surface denoting solidity, strength, weight, and denseness. A metal head further suggests that it has the ability to create and withstand impact.

3. Now, look at the handle. To begin with, it is essentially a stick or lever; the inference is that it is to be hand-held and is something to beat with, or to wield. The material is wood; this is familiar, and should be agreeable to the touch and inviting the possibility of grasp. The diameter of the handle and the slightly curved section near the bottom, locates an area for grip. This stick, however, can be held anywhere along its surface, and this possibility is shown by its smoothness and length. The fact that it is wood indicates that it may be resilient and perhaps absorb shock. Furthermore, the length of the stick, (about the size of a man's extended arm) suggests that similarly it may be used to swing or strike. Because of the heavy attached head, it is not likely that it should leave the hand; it is evident that it should be restrained.