We are the dreamers of dreams
We are the watchers and creators of culture
I. Welcome back & follow up
Good Morning ☀️
No follow up this week.
On Friday I’ll be speaking and hosting a discussion at the Royal College of Art’s Service Design Program on Cultural Systems in Design.
Therefore, this week I wanted to share the notes I’ve prepared for the opening of that discussion. Over the last decade, as I’ve been privileged to work and travel globally, I’ve become more passionate about the impact that culture has on design, and the impact design can have on shaping culture.
Before getting into the notes for RCA, I also wanted to share my weekly opening Slack message to the argo Amsterdam studio, given it’s related to the same topic.
Good Morning AMS ☕
Damn it looks beautiful outside ☀️
It’s been a slow last week in terms of good stories or unique viewpoints. However, this new functionality from Tiktok caught my attention
These are mini-apps within Tiktok. This is similar to what SnapChat does, and what Facebook is trying to do - with making applications into “super apps”, or applications that have complete ecosystems within them.
Why is this interesting?
Lilian Li over at Chinese Characteristics does a great job at explaining the cultural differences in China versus US/EU (Western) apps. The latter looks to own the Customer Journey. The former looks to own the Customer. When you start to think about this difference, it’s staggering. This is why you see apps like WeChat, Douyin, and PDD shoot up in terms of what they offer and creating super-apps (complete operating systems inside apps), and it also explains why our perceived entropy and chaos is a natural path in expansion for Chinese companies.
As more Western apps adopt this type of functionality, it’s good to watch from a design / user / business strategy perspective. It might change the way we approach and think about our work.
As we work across the world, and as anyone here works with different companies, it’s always good to understand the context or starting point for those in other cultures.
Design isn’t homogenous or normalised. There may be good design heuristics, but they still sit inside a cultural system.
Rock people! 🔥 Have an amazing Monday - lots happening this week! Let’s get to it!
With that, let’s get to it…
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II. We are the watchers and creators of culture
Notes for the opening discussion at the Royal College of Art’s Service Design Program on Cultural Systems in Design.
🔮 🔮 🔮
I believe as designers, our duty is to both reflect, and reflect upon, the world around us - products, environments, societies, and cultures.
Reflect upon what we see.
Reflect upon what we create.
Reflect upon what is needed.
Reflect upon what can be improved.
It is to seek and explore the everyday details and meaning around us. It is to watch and inquire about life through the eyes of understanding and empathy, but never through acceptance. We watch the world through the eyes of creators - to accept is to acquiesce.
We look, see, and watch to improve what is around us.
Design in itself is a cultural study. How we use products. How we act in society. How we think of what is around us. As physical or digital products, design responds to the world around it - how an object is defined, crafted, created, and presented, is a direct result of the culture it sits within. Products in India are different from China, are different from the US.
In design, culture matters and culture expresses what is good design.
Similarly, in systems, design absorbs the culture around it. Systems reflect the culture they sit within. In the US, Amazon’s aggressive delivery is a result of the culture it sits within. In India, Jio’s usages of data and providing of streaming entertainment is a result of its culture. In China’s, WeChat’s complete app ecosystem is a result of that culture. While each system works in its own context, they can’t be exchanged or swapped. They must be adapted. They are unique. They have meaning within those countries and contexts.
The connection between design and culture has never been more important, relevant, and I dare say vital to our existence.
I don’t believe this is an exaggeration.
As we continue to be interconnected across the world, the design of the systems we use enable the best of what we can build - community, connection, convenience, entrepreneurship, and democracy of information. It can also feed the worst - hate, fear, oppression, anger, and control.
Design determines this.
Design has intention. It is of course a reaction, but still one of intention.
Our culture is now fed to us through these designed systems. Systems tell us who we are before we can discover it for ourselves. We’re bombarded with content about our race, identity, sexuality, and economic status. And this can be presented for good, and for bad.
Are we Android or iOS?
Snapchat or iMessage?
Facebook or Tiktok?
The medium and the application shapes the message more than ever. It shapes who we are, what we believe, and who we become.
The systems in place around us are a result of our culture, and in return they change our culture. Make no mistake - the design of these systems, deliberate or not, has changed our global behaviours.
This is why right now, thoughtful and intentional design is more important than ever.
As you go out and look at the world around you, remember the Steve Jobs comment that everything around us is created by people no smarter than us - and we have the power to change it - to better it.
As designers, and as creators, we don't have to accept anything - we are the dreamers of dreams.
Thank you for reading!