Notes On – The Importance of Cultural Awareness in Graphic Design

Successful graphic communication depends on an understanding of ‘how people live’, for example, their cultural, social and political interests.

A ‘culture’ is effectively every small or local way of doing things, each ‘way of being’.

For example:

Culture can be related to place: National, regional and local cultures. They can also be related to gender, ethnicity, identity, interests, politics  etc.

Each ‘culture’ is defined by a set of codes that forms the basis of communication. Designers must understand these visual codes, signs and symbols that people use to give shape and meaning to their lives, so that they can communicate visually to them in their ‘language’, using signs and symbols that they will understand.

The culture of others is the graphic designer’s medium.

Good design is ‘invisible’. i.e. the design does not detract from or interfere with the message.

Good design is not about ‘how it should look’ but what is should do. Design is not about satisfying the designer. It is about meeting the needs of those being designed for. “Form follows function”.

To understand a design problem we must first understand the nature of the people we design for – we must understand their culture. This knowledge can be GENERAL (broad knowledge of the world) and EPISODIC (more detailed and specific knowledge required for a single job). Having a good broad knowledge of the world helps designers to identify the right sources of episodic knowledge (..we know what we don’t know).

Design problems are described as WICKED PROBLEMS, a term originally used in social planning. The term ‘Wicked’ comes from their resistance to being resolved. Wicked problems are complex and difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements. Every wicked problem is effectively unique, there is no clear ‘end point’ to a solution and there is no one ‘right’ solution.


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