Tactic #5


Industrial Design needs a dynamic association with Culture to feed its social validity and its capacity for nuance. The Industrial Design profession whilst emphasising problem-solving and user-centeredness as critical methods, also needs to respond to needs of ‘meaning’, and ‘ways of being’, that are cultural responses that interrogate the dominant intellectual and rational bias. 

Culturing is one way to think in a designerly way. It does not refer to  rational problem-solving—it instead interrogates, plays with, and develops on cultural frameworks to infuse them with new ideas in context.

Design is a creative, imaginative authoring practice — a way of giving form and structure to ideas that are new or re-imagined. A designed object communicates its intention, and converses with an audience, thereby inspiring discussion, and expanding an experiential world. Designed objects are storytellers, even in the absence of a person to conduct or deliver the narrative.

Do we subscribe to the ideas that society, with its behaviours and beliefs, must conform to a current ruling technological determinism. When technology determines peoples’ activities, the influence of culture tends to dissipate. As a consequence design becomes a dumb servant of technology, forcing people to conform and adapt.

Villemard, 1910 / Le Barbier nouveau Jeu / Chromolithographie Paris, BNF, Estampes & Villemard, 1910 / Imagined Classrooms / Chromolithographie . Image Source

Culture-ing works the other way as well –  to inspire the imagination with new visions that resonate with the spirit of the people who it addresses. Often the process will reveal underlying values of our technologies and call them into question. For example the value of product upgrading vs service providing (Xerox)

Technologies are not ‘value-independent’. They often enforce behaviours and attitudes that shape our culture. Design will often ‘try on’ a new set of values embodied in a propositional design proposal. It becomes a way of visualising how our values may evolve (for example, we talked about repair cultures replacing dominant consumerist/capitalist frameworks). This realm of design explores how society shifts from the values of an industrial and information age into a new networked, sustainable age / or a reclaimed reduced and simplified one.

Cultural diversity, seems to be rapidly being displaced by an exppanding mono-culture. There is worth in privileging cultural determinism, in which identity is the driving factor for any design development.

Image Source

Bògòlanfini or bogolan is a handmade Malian cotton fabric traditionally dyed with fermented mud. It has an important place in traditional Malian culture and has, more recently, become a symbol of Malian cultural identity. —Wikipedia

This Necklace Created by a Yale Grad & His Team Helps Kids in Rural India Get Vaccinated on Time. This technology is meant to record and track immunisation data of newborn babies across the country by digitising the information at the point of care. The Khushi Baby (KB) system is a combination of a black thread, a waterproof plastic pendant with a near field communication (NFC) chip, and a mobile app.

How to: Culturing

  • To examine and reveal people’s cultural practices and accept them in the spirit of diversity.
  • To be curious about and open to disparate value systems and understand how they might drive thinking and culture.
  • To assimilate narrative traditions (stories, artefacts or practice), to recognise culturally situated design practice and examine the nuanced variables within them, while understanding that all translation is linguistic and spacial.
  • To self-interrogate subjective bias as a method to be implicit bias-aware in design response.

Understanding rather than ‘Othering’

  • attempting to characterise the difference between dominant and non-dominant beliefs, to re-think what is creative and possible.
  • acknowledging  that most user-centred technology design principles Like thise we see in technically complex products, perpetuate a ‘master-designer, God-type complex’ by failing to consider the complexities of culture, economy, education and politics.
  • recognising that human subjectivity has historical and social ties – these influence our thinking and mediate our responses in ways that may not be obvious to the person themselves.

-ideas developed from from Chapter: Digital Stories from the Developing World P(59) “Whose Global Village? : Rethinking how technology shapes our world, Ramesh Srinivasan



Stories through the lens of cultural narratives, mythologies and legends

Created in a workshop of patua, travelling scroll-painters in West Bengal, India, they graphically depict the terrible events of the tsunami of December 26, 2004. Organized by the Asian Heritage Foundation in India, the scrolls were produced and marketed as a means of raising funds for tsunami relief. Like the patachitra scrolls and paintings by Montu Chitrakar and others we show on the previous pages, these scrolls follow the conventions of an age-old narrative tradition. The scrolls are by various artists, all of whom by convention share the surname Chitrakar, meaning painter, whether actually related or not.:Source


Reverse stories through the lens of cultural objects and their use.

Kamidana is a product that you’re unlikely to find at design shows outside of Japan. The word “kami” means god in Japanese and a “Kamidana” literally translates as “god shelf.” Kamidana are traditional miniature Shinto altars found in some Japanese households that worship a specific Shinto god. The Kamidana (designed by mizmiz design) on exhibit at Tokyo Designers Week is a stylish, compact and thoroughly modern take on these miniature altars. :Source


Looking for cultural clues within language poetry and music ‘untranslatables’

The Collier Classification System for Very Small Objects is a project that invesigates both th eperception on non-things and the inpositions of language on notions of ‘Value’.

“Visibly influenced by pre-existing scientific nomenclatures. However, I reject Latin as an archaic language, disregarding the colorfully poetic position of authority that this language has held over matters of science. In my new system, rather than choosing the sounds of distant obsolescence, I have opted for the useful proximity of the everyday English that surrounds me. To the ever-expanding English-speaking world, this will at worst be no more disconnected than the unpronounceable verbiage of current scientific nomenclatures. The word fragments are designed to retain some familiarity with contemporary English speakers. As the English language continues its global expansion, I am positioning my system to become the dominant tool used to define the previously overlooked, piggybacking the system on the neocolonial language of international technology and commerce.”



Engaging in and exploring conversations within cultural contexts – either by being embedded or creating culturally immersive opportunities

Exhibition: What Frida wore: the artist’s wardrobe locked up for 50 years – in pictures

After Frida Kahlo died in 1954, her husband Diego Rivera shut her belongings in a bathroom at their Mexico City home, the Blue House – then demanded it be locked until 15 years after his death. In fact, the room wasn’t opened until 2004. Ishiuchi Miyako was invited to photograph its intimate contents when they went on show at the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico City in an exhibition curated by Circe Henestrosa. Here are the artist’s beloved belongings, from sunglasses to handpainted corsets