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 Indian Design

Contemporary Indian Design

The philosophy or driving model behind the industrialised age was the promise of “equitable access” and “leveler of society“. This was developed as part of the idealist western school of thought. Here Ghose, introduces us to the philosopher Weber and the concept of transforming society through economic management.This philosophy was implicit with the universal concepts which constituted the rational man’s reason and industry. The state can and did act as the tranforming agent when there was a lack of “endogenous impetus” by the people, however this raises some very important issues. Design in the context of modernity is seen as a technology of power. Design has the power to change the context it operates within. But to be able to do this there are 3 key ingredients (as encapsulated in the Ahmedabad Declaration):

  1. Understanding values of own culture and defining quality of life within this context
  2. Thinking global, acting local
  3. Preserving plural identities in the cultural landscape

These are not implicit steps to be achieved in a step by step linear fashion. The dichotomy of the situation is posed by questions from the author (Ghose): “Will the benefits trickle down? Must the emphasis be on acquiring the necessary sophisticated skills and experience in operation on that more international sector, or must the relevance or irrelevance of a design skill be constantly tested contested?” And I find myself, grappling with the issues as he presents them in the paper. What is gained is not always useful, high technology, affluence and fantasy are used by designer to create the right ambiance for the right customer who can operate within a particular economic paradigm.

The designer is operating within this hybrid state of being and becoming of a culture’s sense of identity which is always in a constant state of change (both first world and developing nations). As a designer, one is faced with the exogenous and endogenous factors operating the “mechanisms of marginality and exclusions” (Ghose, 1989). An example of this was the gradual decline of the quality of craft produced in India when it first came in contact with the rapid and external forces of Western ways of doing over a 20 year period1. However design in India has also been used to help local crafts people improve their tools and can help them to better navigate the global marke and its destructive forces (as evident by the Handmade in India book). Now in this post-postmodern world, we are becoming concerned with “ecology and quality of life” and realising that “economic activity must be judged in terms of human values!” (Balaram, 2009).

Through contact with the west, India has gained the knowledge to forge their own Design Policy which was revised again in 2005 and implemented in 2007, based on their unique cultural values without the negative and binding influences of a colonial mind set and what Doreen Fernandes calls “the giant inferiority complex”. (Ghose, 1989). The showcase of designers from diverse fields in the Indian Design Magazine ‘Pool’, is a testament to the pioneering spirit of this country’s designers, who are not afraid to push their designs in to the global and local markets both technically and aesthetically but also strongly value and respect the traditional history of their crafts people and include their influences. I think I would like my buddy to keep this duality of tradition and modernity in balance.


  1. Postmodernism was originally characterized by its refutation of the objective and totalizing truths of modernity; truths are deflated as one is left with nothing ‘real,’ just the empty shell of the contemplated referent and the subject and his/her contemplation. This “breakdown of the relationship between signifiers”, between the subject and how he/she contemplates the object, results in a schizophrenic reality. (Jameson, 1984).


  1. Balaram, S. (2009). Design in India: The Importance of the Ahmedabad Declaration. Design Issues. MIT. 25(4), pp. 54-79. Craft with Mettle. (2012). POOL, 1, 26-28.
  2. Ghose, R. (1989). Design, Development, Culture and Cultural legacies in Asia. Design Issues. MIT. 6(1), pp. 31-48.
  3. Jameson, F. (1984). Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. New Left Review, 146.


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