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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Contemporary Chinese Design

Contemporary Chinese Design

The need for visual authenticity in a designed object can at times relegate it to a frozen image of what we might think is a true representation of that cultural authenticity.

To that end, Leong makes the comparison between the chair from Ming dynasty (circa 1650) and the popular furniture currently in Hong Kong which is based on the more elaborate and stylised Qing dynasty artifacts.

We are asked to think about the acculturation process, “What can and should be the point of cultural access – Should it only rely on the visual or must it also encompass the philosophical?” (Leong & Clark, 2003).

I think I have come to understand that grasping the philosophical notions of a culture are just as important as understanding its visual aesthetics in designing somethingthat is true to its sources of inspiration (Leong & Clark, 2003).

The point of entry is, for me, less important than the desire to be enriched by greater cultural awareness and understanding – Benny Ding Leong

Leong has developed a new approach to design based on influences from China mainland, Hong Kong and Western Influences. His “Value Orientation” has gained a new oriental influence by introducing reflectivity. However the author talks about “Unification” and explains that this is a new process (made new) which he calls “Spiritulisation of science and technology”. This is not a new concept and it has its origins in Hussler’s last book “The Crisis” on Phenomenology (where he decidedly takes phenomenology on a different path and with it the future of Sciences and Empiricism and which Derrida seems to have ignored in his interpretations).

Process Philosophy also deals with the same philosophical touch points mentioned in the article.

The contemporary Chinese Design Exhibition, was wonderful and I have included two of the designed building/artifact’s pictures above. Both in my opinion are reflection of Chinese poetic aesthetics with a decidedly modern twist. The whimsy and cultural heritage is evident in the design of both items. Here we see a merging of the both modern and traditional aesthetics. What has been lost during modernity is the sense of “careful utilisation and respect for objects” (Leong & Clark, 2003).

Designers are using technology and new methods of production as well as traditional philosophical touch points to bring new life and create products that are modern but embody the cultural heritage of China. This is an ongoing process in China and elsewhere in the world.

“One World, One Dream” was the slogan of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Above is the pictures of the mascots (Fuwa) from the games based on the western and Chinese melding of the two.

The mascots are the colours of the olympic rings but each character is a decidedly Chinese cultural symbol which is masterfully blended in with the olympic’s western origin. It is full of meaning and beauty.

Fuwa also embody both the landscape and the dreams and aspirations of people from every part of the vast country of China. In their origins and their headpieces, you can see the five elements of nature — the sea, forest, fire, earth and sky — all stylistically rendered in ways that represent the deep traditional influences of Chinese folk art and ornamentation.- Beijin Olympics Website

During the last semester of my studies, I worked closely with Raef Kerbaj who is a furniture designer. We worked on a team project to understand each other’s culture and respectfully engage in a process of transmitting and interpreting our culture different but similiar cultures and many tribal memberships (imagined, real, silenced, spoken, designer, family, national, hybrid, etc).

I am going to leave you with a quote by Leong, who in describing his Double-Happiness Condiment, expressed what I feel about our philosophical and design decisions that have been integrated into our design process:

Here the elements of …culture are not made visually or materially explicit, but rather they are deeply
embedded and underpin the design philosophy that generates the products (the inner level)… – Leong


  1. Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. (2008). The Official Mascots for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Retrieved 29 April, 2012, from
  2. Leong, B. D., & Clark, H. (2003). Culture-Based Knowledge Towards New Design Thinking and Practice – A dialogue. Design Issues, 19(3), 48-58.
  3. Victoria and Albert Museum (2008). China Design Now. Retrieved 29 April, 2012, from

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