The Nature of Culture in Design

The Nature of Culture in Design

Patricia A. Young (University of Maryland at Baltimore, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-426-2.ch002
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There have been many definitions of culture hypothesized by theorists and scholars as a way to understand human beings, other species and entities; human nature; Mother Nature, and artifacts (Giles & Middleton, 1999; Hall, 1996; Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1966; Williams, 1958). Culture has been characterized as being descriptive, historical, normative, psychological, structural, and genetic (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1966). Kroeber (1948) theorized culture as “how it comes to be” versus “what it is” (p. 253). Therefore, culture is socially constructed. Geertz (1973) interpreted culture as a “historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (p. 89). Hofstede (1991) proposed that culture is learned; it is not part of one’s genetic makeup. In the area of cultural studies, culture is concerned with how meanings are interpreted and created in a society (Gray & McGuigan, 1997; Hall, 1997). Williams (1958), a cultural theorist, believes that “culture is ordinary” (p. 74). It is made in the human mind, making possible effort, examination, and explication. This means culture is what is known (tradition) and what comes to be known through investigation and invention (creativity). Baumeister (2005) argued that culture is not innately human. Other species (e.g., monkeys and chimpanzees)show patterns of learned behavior that is passed on from generation to generation. Culture is artificial; it is civilization. (Kroeber, 1948). A simple question-and-answer scenario about culture might proceed as follows: What is culture? Culture is everything human made and nature made. What is the purpose of culture? The purpose of culture is to serve humans. How does culture function? Culture functions as directed by humans. When will culture end? When humankind ends, culture will end. Where is culture? Culture is everywhere. Why do we need culture? We need culture to tell our history.
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Qualifying Culture In Design

The nature of culture in design moves beyond petrified interpretations. Culture is not tied to a discipline, theory, or controversy. The transformation is like moving culture from theory to practice, and in this sense, the pieces of culture must be deconstructed and transferred from a theoretical dimension to a practical dimension. In a practical dimension; culture maintains both physical and virtual properties, and the properties of culture are free to be transported, reinvented, mixed, and coagulated in the space of design.

Culture is dynamic, malleable, fluid, and always in motion.1 Therefore, culture can take on any form, fashion or feline. Culture exists freely in the space of design. This emulsion is the space in which design should exist and designers should work. In the design of ICTs, the goal is to recreate or represent culture. As a design construct, culture takes on properties that make it visible and invisible, dynamic and static, virtual and physical. Like the paint an artist applies to canvas, the nature of culture in design maintains an infinite number of possibilities and properties. Culture does not have physical or virtual properties in design until the designer assigns those properties. Culture is not real until designers make it real.

The nature of culture in design is creative. This creativity is derived through the implementation of the design process. However, some innate creative ability is required of designers and the design. Should creativity be a prerequisite for designers, or can anyone be a designer? An inventive spirit requires the ability to see beyond the obvious and to design new ways to envision one’s physical and virtual reality. So yes, creativity is highly desirable.

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