Blog, graphic design

A note on cross-cultural design

Many of my clients are in other countries, and I have strong opinions on how cultural differences should be displayed in design and film, so this quote seemed like a ray of sunshine. It is from Henry Steiner‘s book entitled Cross Cultural Design:

…When designing across cultures…the goal is to achieve a harmonious juxtaposition; more of an interaction than a synthesis. The individual character of the elements should be retained, each maintaining its own identity while also commenting on and enriching the other…Combination, mixture, blending — these are useless concepts as they will result in a kind of mud. Street stalls in Hong Kong serve an understandably unique beverage called Yin-yang, a combination of tea and coffee. It tastes as you would imagine: the worst characteristics of both are enhanced. In the Tai-Chi (the yin-yang symbol) the elements don’t merge, they stand for positive/negative, male/female, light/dark, and they are complementary, yet discrete.

This speaks to one of my frustrations with modern graphic design: we take indiscriminately from this and that culture, or this and that school of thought, and throw it all together and expect it to be good design, or good art. But “blending” — as Steiner calls it — does not make good design. Juxtaposition and complementing make good design, whether it be across cultures or across styles.

This is something that I strive for with Hearken Creative’s projects.