• Thoughts on the globalization of design

    Community, Communication Design


    I am lucky. I was born in Switzerland, where I learned how you should design. Now I live and work in different countries, I speak different languages, and my friends come from different parts of the world. One family. I am very lucky.

    Then I think, how come design always looks the same, feels the same? I meet international designers and I can't see any difference between their work and mine. Even though they come from across the globe, the cultural variety seems to be watered down. Things like the Internet, international exhibitions, low cost airlines and the domination of the English language have opened the door to the whole world.

    Is it really the whole world or just what is adaptable with western standards? Is it necessary? Or maybe, do I have to know other cultures' identities in order to understand mine?

    I don't know.

  • Image_177_

    I moved to Paris almost two years ago and there is one major thing that I noticed - the French love diversity! Crazy about it. It's in their blood ....

    I noticed straight away that French logos were not very appealing to me, my design tastes ... this is the first thing I noticed (sorry Frenchies!!). Every logo tried to be more colorful, more elaborate, more complex and more different then the next. Creating some of the most (in my opinion) ridiculous and god-awful brandmarks that I've every seen.

    But then I realized that this is coming from my American taste for standardization and compliance and my respect for Scandinavian design practices. So now I am split about what I feel is good design and the idea of diversity in design. I ask a French person and they love these logos and say they are more interesting then the American counter-parts. Hmmm ....

    Similarly, advertising in the Middle East is very different then the western world. I've looked at it in the past only to think bad design. But, if those billboards were designed in a way that I would think "good" ... would that fly in the Gaza Strip? Would the people think it bad or just strange? Most likely.

    So, what of the design principles a communications designer learns in school? Tyography, grid, colors, etc ....

    Are these just western standards or inherent principles that all designers must follow? I tend to think that they are and should be standard. They serve a purpose of simplification and communication on a mass level. But I have not come to any final conclusions ... cop-out. sorry ...........

  • Bonjour Christian!

    It's been my experience that good design is more of an inner intuition than something picked up from the outside environment. That may be why everyone seems to be on the same page. Like those monkeys that began to wash their food in Australia, then another group started to do the same in Asia. One theory is that when we sleep, we all download our thoughts to a universal storage bank. I'm not sure if they have theories like that in Switzerland, but it is an interesting idea!



  • George's post/musing on the universality of design got me thinking...*is* there such a thing as Universal Design?

    I guess designed objects can be usable by a range of differently-abled people...but then something is lost...maybe it gets washed out.

    i wish i could reference more than one post...Christian Etter's recent post on the Globalization of Design points out the homogenization that occurs in the design world with the internet and trade shows.

    I feel that if you try to do too much, to meet too many requirements, to serve everyone...i think something is lost. Cultural specificity. Appropriateness to a particular time and place. Local flavor.

    Are the universal principles of Aesthetics? maybe. But you can't please all of the people all of the time. And who'd want to?

  • Christian, I think about this often and am happy you called attention to it. Just the fact you're also thinking what I'm thinking is proof that same thoughts travel across miles simultaneously, without people knowing...until that day a collision occurs - or awareness that the other exists, thinking similarly. Mind-bending, eh? But really, I wonder often about "design" dialogue today, in that, more and more, design means more things to more people. From where did this zeitgeist hail? And why is it that so many corporations and social institutions all around the world are all of a sudden (unwittingly?) joining in on the game of design? I like it, if the effects match the good intentions. But still, I wonder.

  • Igîsel_fillette_avec_mounica_a_3

    Reading Thoughts on the globalization of design by Christian Etter and the responses to this message, I started to wonder if recent toy design by Moroccan children could add something to the discussion.

    Although they don’t analyze their self-made toys in such terms I think they clearly express the influence of globalization. For example, when girls start to use Barbie-like dolls they yet dress themselves. In this case a new type of doll is adapted to local custom.

    Another example - making a mobile phone with clay, using a piece of tin as screen and pebbles as buttons - exemplifies how commonly used material serves to make a high tech communication device that only very recently entered the adult world in southern Morocco.

    For the moment, the influence of new material and ideas creates a greater diversity in the toys of Moroccan children from rural areas as traditional toymaking techniques and formerly used natural and waste material continue to be used together with cheap imported industrially made toys. Yet, in popular quarters of towns the globalization of toy design and toy marketing brings forward an impoverishment in children’s toys through a depreciation of self-made toys.

    Jean-Pierre Rossie

  • hi guys.... not that this is necessarily an extremely vital example, but i've been designing watches for tiffany's for few months, and one of the things that my boss explained to me about the brand strikes me as fitting to what you're talking about here. tiffany's tries very hard to create products that will work in every market. in the end, i think, this works relatively well. sometimes what ends up happening is that they offer different versions of products, they alter details such as the number of diamonds, the complexity and depth of the designs, the type of metal used. sometimes they'll produce particular parts for particular markets- like a special dial for a watch to be sold in japan. sometimes people (usu in arab states) buy the watches and have more diamonds set into them. but in the end, there is some aspect of these products to which people everywhere are drawn, and the need to develop adaptable designs (multiple versions or allow people space to embellish) becomes yet another factor in the design process.

    (disclaimer: yes, people buy the products because they come in a blue box, but there are some tiffany's products that sell well and others that don't, so it isn't simply the desire for the blue box that determines a successful design)

  • Ciao Christian!

    You question is very interesting. Visual language doesn't need to be translated. This made me think of another internationally understood language, which is music. If we consider pop music, it could be seen as a "common, global taste" ruled by the market. It is a "style that sells". But the more time passes by, and the more "pop" acquires different meanings, and takes inspiration from other styles which were not popular. So, individual and national "styles" earn their voice. It is less and less "western", and more and more contaminated and various.

    There is something that I wonder: has music been explored more that graphic design? Is it simply more developed? Graphic design could be a "pop version" of visual arts, such as painting. Graphic design is used in advertising, and generally to sell, so it has a much more western connotation. Visual arts are the mirror of people and countries, they are more free.

    I wonder if graphic design, just like music, will get more and more rich and diversified in the future, getting closer to pure art.

    Ciao ciao,


  • Thanks for the post.

    I couldn't help but notice that the child in the picture is wearing clothes with an English-language sales pitch on it. This little girl is oozing the ill effects globalization--it is her shroud. As exhibited here, the branding of westernization is not just printed ON the garment; it IS the garment. The English words are a brand unto themselves, of course, but then, as if to compound it, the word 'brand' is used. She is selling the (western) idea of selling—selling the idea of personal worth as a commodity. Blue Brand, in deed; or should we say branded until we are all blue?

  • Thanks for directing my ethnographic eye to the brand name on the girl's trousers. I didn't notice this till now as I was too much thinking of the message signed through the doll.

    There is probably a difference between the one buying and wearing such trousers in our consumption society where the name of the brand ads value to the trousers and the one buying or receiving it as second hand cloth in Morocco. The Moroccan mother as well as the girl didn't care about the brand name but only about the quality and nice look of the trousers and its possible prize.

    This is not to say that the design of the trousers and its brand name has no influence over there. Other typical symbols of Western brand names put on clothes and shoes are a real factor in buying these items. They sell very well in Morocco the more as the prizes remain affordable because they are imitations.

  • Hi Christian. I m Thierry and i live in Mexico city... Well, i kept thinking about your article. I do not think it is the Whole world...As a consultant for crafts and artisanal designs i sometimes get impresed by the strong identity of things in latin america..I feel the same as you describe...is it necessary ? A lot of people still live in condition totally diferent than mine , not only poverty but the way they live, buy, use materials, cook, garden, etc maybe thing we do not value the same way in developed and satured countries.. That world uniformization afraids me sometimes...the other day I was in Beyrouth..and the old city center is like an airport Mall.. and i was thinking about Lebanon and what people feel about the city they live in..the wars they lived all those past years.The city soul...became a mall..a mall like in any country in the world....i wanted to have a cafe there and i felt so strange that i went back to the other city..the one with bullets traces on the walls...

  • Clean_177_

    Good Evening Chrisitan,

    I come from Beirut, the lovely, viable, outgoing capital of Lebanon. In my opinion, design is a means of expression of the human nature. The human nature, energy & soul is one all over the world. Basically what differs is the style in which this design is relayed, this style vaires according to each culture, the language, traditions, standards, usage of colors, meanings related to it, etc. The more the people are open, have an open spirit, the more the design is one, but only with a style that differentiates it from the rest, just like everything related to art, like music, cooking...it's intuitive and related to our essence.This essence is the same everywhere.

    Everything is design and layout and they come with a special breath, the breath of the maker mixed with that of the beholder.

    Keep it always clean inside!

  • Pespectives_177_

    Style is the soul of the artist that defines the "who" when living the inevitable moment of the here and now. There is no art without a soul that breathes the images put in design. Its the timber of different sounds combined creatively in the expression of layers unkown to the artist at times. Design as a means is universal but what it holds is a specific soul in style.

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