Critical analysis of culture and design began with asking a simple but fundamental question. What is really culture and design and how are they related?
There are more than hundreds of definition of the word ‘culture’ around the world. Culture seems to be very abstract and complex concept in nature. Also design, due to its inherently multidisciplinary and constantly evolving concept, there is not a single definition that can best describe the word design. Both culture and design or design and culture must be analysed through the scope of economical, technological, environmental, historical, political, and sociological aspects to be well understood.
‘Culture is the entire way of life of people and everything learned and shared by people in society’ -Leslie A. White
This could include acts (patterns of behaviours), objects (tools and things made by tools), ideas (beliefs, knowledge), and sentiments (attitudes, values). Culture can be conceived as the secondary artificial environment that humans create in order to adapt to their primary, natural (geographic or climatic) environment.
Culture is also a coping mechanism that is essential to human survival. To survive, the human species develops a variety of adaptive instruments, such as tools, symbols, language, values, and norms. Therefore, cultural identity informs individuals and social groups about their past, defines their position in the present, and proposes expectations about their futures (C.J. Hamelink , 2015).
Simply put, culture is set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of society in addition to literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, tradition and beliefs (UNESCO, 2000).
The meanings of design have been constantly changing throughout the different periods of time. During 20th century, the modern concept of design was born of market demand and facilitated by mass manufacturing industry. Design focus was on production which ignored cultural studies as design was a merely the way of differentiating something among mass produced goods and services in capitalism driven market economy. Why is cultural studies important to design? Modernity required visual and material means of expressing its aspirations and identities because our society is rapidly changing.
Therefore, design is part of commercial system to meet the people’s needs and desires through production and consumption. At the end of 20th century, design’s main imperative was to create and reflect meaning in the context of everyday life (Penny Sparke, 2013).
Putting word of culture and design together, we have ‘design culture’. From the modernist’s illustrative high-minded idealism to post-modernist’s formative value-free approach, culture has been actually constructed not merely reflected by design.
For instance, design carries technological message to the sociocultural context as designers manipulate materials to create multiple meanings. Simply put, cultural contents and meanings are created through materials as well as visuals, spatial, and now even experiential (Penny Sparke, 2013).
In my opinion, design is the means/tools of translating our inherent natures into emergent cultures while communicating more sensible futures into our accessible cultures through visual, material, spatial, and experiential value creation. Therefore, intuitive understandings and analysis of design culture will help us to generate actual meanings and values to represent everyday lives of our generation.