(POST A) Design Contexts: Urban and Rural

Design doesn’t exist in isolation. The context of a particular space influences its designed outcomes, just as the designed outcome has the power to alter contexts and even cultures (Cooper 1999.). This complex relationship means that design has differing definitions for the diverse groups of people in society.

A large part of design that we are exposed to, create and participate in is geared towards the context of westernized, urban areas and dense population. This comes as no great surprise when 89% of Australia’s population lives in urban areas (World Bank, 2015.). The effects of urbanization and globalization have imposed this westernized approach to design upon developing nations such as Indonesia. In 1991 only 32% of the Indonesian population lived in urban areas, jump forward 25 years to 2015 and that has risen to 53.3% thanks to rapid population growth, the development of infrastructure and a growing economy.

A suburb of Yogyakarta city.

The context of the city advocates a successful, fast paced lifestyle; through carefully designed products and services its inhabitants come to expect variety, convenience, efficiency and instant connectivity. It often seems that less emphasis is placed on a design’s longevity or afterlife. This has led to design outcomes such as: single use products (e.g. plastic bottled water), self-service, convenience stores and personal electronic devices.

Indomart, the most popular chain of convenience store in central Java.

Designed objects/services in urban spaces can have less consideration for the nuances of their context, giving them more power to change cultures and even create new ones (e.g. the rise of the internet and social media) because they are consumed en mass by a large demographic in close proximity. It is interesting to observe how different design ideologies clash and meld into the local culture.

A street art mural in Geneng exploring the struggling relationship between traditional and contemporary Indonesia.

If we shift our focus to one of Indonesia’s 79,075 villages (Badan Pusat Statistik, 2012.) it is clear that here design works in a different way. The rural village is a context, which continues to nurture Indonesian culture due to its geographical isolation and its members practicing traditional rituals, beliefs and skills. The Indonesian education system often doesn’t encourage critical thinking; Singgih Kartono an Indonesian product designer suggests that as a result of this most people see their daily work in the village (e.g. preparing meals or crafting items) as a necessary means to get by rather than viewing them as designerly activities. This humble outlook leads to a functional approach of problem solving with an emphasis on self-sustainability.

A rural farmer preparing rice fields for planting.

In a village there is a habitually participatory approach to making and communicating; the user becomes a critical component of the process (Sanders, 1999.) For example alone, a basket weaver can make and sell baskets at a market, however they can also teach others how to create a basket for themselves. By sharing knowledge, the design becomes open source and people are able to customize a basket for their personal needs. This collaborative approach is also made possible by members of the village having equal access to cheap, sustainable and local materials such as bamboo.

A member of Kelingan village teaching university students how to weave a bamboo basket.

The rapid growth of Indonesia as a nation has brought with it complex issues. An unorganized system of governance and a lack of education/services have exaggerated environmental challenges such as polluted waterways, clean drinking water and waste management. Kartono believes that we need to look urgently towards the context of the humble village when designing to combat the wicked environmental problems that Indonesia and the planet face. As designers we should immerse ourselves in different contexts to better understand the needs of our increasingly global society.

Reference list:

Badan Pusat Statistik. 2013, Indonesia demographic and health survey 2012, Ministry of Health, Viewed 14 March 2016, < http://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR275/FR275.pdf >.

Cooper, R. 1999, Design Contexts, The Design Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, pp 1.

Sanders, E. 2002, ‘From User-Centered to Participatory Design Approaches’, in J.Frascara (Ed.), In Design and the Social Sciences, Taylor & Francis Books Limited

The World Bank. 2016, Urban population (% of total), The World Bank Group, Washington DC, viewed 14 March 2016, < http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS >.

*All photographs used in this blog post are taken by the author


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