K. Krippendorff. Meaning in an ecology of artifacts. Chapter six of The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design. Taylor & Francis Group. 2006. pp. 193-205.

The sixth chapter of the book addresses how products link together meaningfully and form an ecology. The concept of ecology is borrowed from biology. An ecological approach to analyzing technology means looking into how ‘species’ of artifacts interact. In practice this means analyzing how meaning of an artifact is impacted by other artifacts and how the meaning of an artifact changes during time (by different generations of users).

Ecologies of artifacts are the result of meaning making of multiple individual users. Thus the ecologies can not be understand from a single viewpoint. Krippendorff describes two approaches to study artifact ecologies: 1) diachronic accounts, i.e. studying the evolution of the artifacts; and 2) synchronic accounts, i.e. studying a particular subsystem in an ecology of artifacts. In synchronic accounts Krippendorff identify four kinds of links between artifacts: causal connections, family resemblances, metaphorical connections, and institutional liaisons.

The meaning of an artifact in an ecology is created through its possible interactions with other artifacts. According to Krippendorff, there are three kinds of interactions in any ecology: cooperative, competitive and independent. The ecological meaning is not a meaning given by an individual user but a net effect of many users’ actions and interactions of species of artifacts.