Cultural Awareness is the ability to look outside of ourselves and be aware of the society we are in. I am no expert in the topic of culture or cultural diversity but having worked in three different continents, my belief that it is of the utmost importance to be culturally aware while designing, is much stronger than before. As a designer it becomes our first responsibility to understand the surrounding we are in. Today as the world gets flat by the day and we all share services around the globe it becomes more important for each one of us to be sensitive to other cultures and their needs.
There can be three degrees of cultural awareness:
- "My way is the only way" – Here designers ignore the impact of cultural differences and think that their way of designing is the only way.
- "I know their way but my way is better" – Here designers are aware of the other cultures but still prefer doing things their own way.
- "My way and their way" – Here designers who are aware of the cultural differences use these differences and diversity to creatively find a design solution. I call this ‘Our Way’ which is the result of not only being aware of the society but also creating something which is called as ‘Shared Culture.’
A very good example of ‘Our Way’ is French architect Le Corbusier’s city planning for Chandigarh, India which even today is considered as the paradigm for architects around the world. The buildings that this great architect designed were not only based on his knowledge of architecture but also adhered to the needs and culture of India.
One more case in point:
Philippe Starck considers himself as "a Japanese architect, an American art director, a German industrial designer, a French artistic director, and an Italian furniture designer" and this is why he is such a global success. As a designer he has the ability to mould himself and his work depending on the location of his project.
Also, for instance an American bride wears a white dress for her wedding whereas an Indian woman wears white only for funerals. This is a very small example of how colours are perceived differently in different societies and cultures. But if a designer misses a simple detail like this, his/her design can be a failure.
Larger organizations like McDonalds do a market research before entering any new country and the major part of their research is about the culture and lifestyle of the people of that country.
If McDonalds can design their menu to suit the taste buds of each country, we designers should gather enough knowledge of the culture of people whom we are designing for and base our ideas and ethos on that. I have learned from my experiences that being aware of the norms and beliefs of the society for which one is designing always leads to a successful design.