Cultural Design

Culture provides the catalyst for Designer to create services and products that are fit for their context but also innovative and culturally sensitive.

Our role as designers hinges on integrating the socio-cultural factors that leads to the final outcome. Now more than ever, we need to be aware of the impact of culture.

Indigenous Designs

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Australian Indigenous Aesthetics

Australian Indigenous Aesthetics

It only requires one invention to initiate a representational tradition. The important issue is not the ability to represent but rather the motivation to do so.

In her book, Thinking with Things, Pasztory explores the use of images on rock and cave surfaces. She is very interested in looking at their structural features, the mechanics and possible use of images. What are their purpose? Are hunters and gathers’ material culture so devoid of embodied concepts? She proposes that image did not hold the same value as it does in other cultures. My question is how can we be certain that there wasn’t the same intrinsic value put on the process itself as it was on image in other cultures. How do we know that in their nomadic outlook they didn’t treasure their own basketry, rock cravings and paintings as “Beautiful Things”,  that there was no sentimentality towards embodied concepts in things that have long perished!

In an age now, where globalisation is on the rise and with it mass migration, does that mean that the migrant who leaves their valued cultural objects behind for reasons beyond their control, doesn’t treasure them or their memories? At the beginning of my Master’s course in Design Anthropology, (from the readings in Introduction to Design Anthropology, March 2011) I recall a book by an Archaeologist, who was adamant that some spear-heads were designed with much more attention to detail to make them beautiful not to function better but to attract a mate who appreciated the streak of creativity being shown.

So many beautiful stories are captured in the collaborative work that is ‘Don’t ask for stories’. Poignant stories of rapid change, introduction of new food, paint, new ways of learning and doing, which in turn affected traditional cultural practices, and of course God. The nostalgia of the early days of the mission days (Eickelkamp, 1999. pp29) and the sorrow at the new generation’s loss of language resonated strongly with me.

Designs made for carpets were made by children and translated by the women to floor rugs. A few years ago the canvas became the tool for depicting the community’s life and a tool for exploring issues within the community. Western Desert iconography from other tribes was appropriated in the hope that a shared language could be fostered, one that would allow them to share their knowledge with other Aboriginal People.

“A new person might have different ideas, might bring new things to learn.” – Nyukanaku Tjukurpa (Nyukana Baker)

Design as an innovative tool,  is about the desire to learn something new from the objects around us, something that is not about a single individual’s sense of aesthetics alone but the incorporation of shared knowledge.


  1. Pasztory, E. (2005). Thinking with Things: Toward a New Vision of Art. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Chapters 5, pp. 44-51.
  2. Eickelkamp, U. (Ed.). (1999). Don’t Ask for Stories. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. Entire book, pp. 1- 88.

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