What Is Culture By Definition?
Culture can be broadly defined as a group identity formed around distinct social patterns. These social patterns range from history of doing things and solving problems to perceptions and interactions, norms and traditions, explicit and tacit.
In the context of human civilization, the strength of a culture is the measure of its identity and its richness of cultural objects. Signification of cultural identities is typically exhibited in the distinctive cultural signatures in products and artifacts belonging to different cultural origins. Typically, Chinese, Scandinavian, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Oriental to Renaissance etc. all are diverse identities that celebrate a wealth of distinctive and meaningful products.
Culture And Design
Culture gives rise to styles and preferences of a certain group of people. These two aspects call for the need of specific attributes in products that appeal to the people. This is the fundamental concept of human-based design. Lifestyles can range from eating habits to architecture etc. Discrepancies in how people eat across different cultures bear a lot of influence in the design of things like the kitchenware, dining space design etc. The same happens with clothing and architecture.
Product design approach that seeks to satisfy the traditional preferences of different particular cultural groups, has given rise to a new innovative brand enterprise in industrial design that creates labels which stand for distinct cultural identities. ‘Labeling of culture’ can be used to describe the current practice where product design is being used to gain international recognition and legitimize diverse areas of urban regeneration. For example, the purpose of the siting of the Palm Island and the World Island in UAE is solely to build a national identity as an international destination for tourism.
Integration Versus Homogenization Of Culture In Design
Globalization and commercial production has led to a shift in focus in the approach of product design. Commercial production aims at a global market that comprises many cultures and subcultures. In light of this new development, product design has shifted from one which is human based to activity based. This is a situation where products are designed to be able to be used to perform a specific activity wherever in the world by anyone who can access it and is able to interact with its technology. For example, the mobile phone industry uses a technology/activity based approach for design. There are no distinct phones designed for any cultural segment but rather economic segments of the world. The main activity here is communication, and the phone design uses a technology that just enables the activity to take place. This homogenization of culture in product design is extending to entire disciplines like architecture, furniture and industrial goods. This leads to an important question.
Does Culture Really Matter In Design?
Understanding cultural diversity is vital, and respecting it is critical. Whereas mass industrial production of goods calls for activity based design, it is important to recognize that people’s activities are highly determined by their culture. So although people use pretty similar products, different people are inclined to use them in many different ways, attempting to fit them in their real needs, hence creating very different experiences out of them. Product designers should convince manufacturing companies to focus more on what people do with the products given to them to be able to produce products more suitable for the real needs.
Current State Of Affairs And The Future Of Culture In Design
The current state of affairs in the relationship of culture and design is somewhat chaotic. What we have in many areas is a designed fusion culture adoption in design as opposed to the traditional monoculture. This situation portents uncertainty and threatens cultural identities in design while promoting cultural materialism. This is fueled by the rapid growth of globalism that undermines independent cultural identities, partly as a result of disparate nature of where design and production takes place, and unfamiliarity with the true origin of materials and products.
However, amidst all the confusion and cultural identities fusion in product design, some new cultural strands are showing signs of reviving. The return of cultural fundamentalism has been witnessed in Europe, more specifically in the Dutch Design and Scandinavian Design. New Swedish Design in furniture is also utilizing cultural design anthropology. More authentic Chinese Art and Design with no Western style derivatives is regaining popularity.
A re-invention of cultural fundamentals is needed to re-engage our past to the present and forge a collective local global future. Cultural Fusion has its good side, but it erodes cultural identity and breeds confusion.