The Culture of Design

by Erika Templeton

Culture can be a tricky thing to pin down. High culture, low culture, counter culture, tribal culture, work culture… it is a living, breathing, ethereal evolver, and none of us can claim that we belong to one simple variety. But one thing I know is clear: we are all bound together by the culture of design.

I recently stumbled upon an article titled “From Visual Culture to Design Culture,” in which author Guy Julier attempts to lay out a framework for the academic study of design as a culture. He describes it as something that designers do but also something that simply is: “It is located within network society, and is also an instrument of it. It expresses an attitude, a value, and a desire to improve things.”

He provides a list of stripped-down definitions to explore, my favorite of which is “design culture as a context-informed practice… a forum by which globally diasporic actors connect, communicate, and legitimate their activities.”

I find these descriptions quite poignant. As Felice Silverman says simply in her column, “we are experts in defining and designing for each client’s culture, whatever that may be.” In a globalized world, interior designers and architects have become experts at reading the flows of global culture, rooting out meaning and value, and using the tools of design to communicate that story back on behalf of their clients. By harnessing the culture of design, we are able to connect and shape the global community in powerful new ways.

With that power comes responsibility, which is why Rachelle Schoessler Lynn’s question in her ASID column is so critical: “How can we foster design that is in harmony with the culture we want to create?”

It is a question worth remembering as you read this month’s World-at-Large feature exploring design in the Middle East, where rapid development has often masked true cultural and aesthetic values with shallow replications. (We, however, don’t believe that process is inherently opposed to the creation of positive culture.)

And when all the rhetorical discussion starts to go to your head, be sure to check out our first-ever Global Report featuring five design-savvy destinations perfect for getting some R&I (rest and inspiration).