Post A: Design in Context

Context is everything when understanding and solving problems

The scope and influence of Design is seemingly endless and it plays some role in almost every industry, society, and culture today. Design determines the systems, technologies and structures we live by and as these evolve and shift, as does the role and practice of the designer. Human-Centered design researcher Gozde Goncu-Berk explained, “In the last decade, graphic design has gone from being defined largely by style to something that is influenced and can influence international policy, consumption, education and the environment (Drucker and McVarish, 2009).” This limitless flexibility is what makes context a key element in every design problem and solution.

Graduating designers are no longer simply experts in the elements and principles of graphic design, products, architecture or fashion, but equally important is their understanding and approach to the many complex contexts they may need to engage and collaborate with.  Assistant professor of art and design at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukeein, Adream Blair-Early, reinstated this when she explained, ‘New designers are valued as much for their ability to collaborate, innovate and creatively solve problems as they are for their understanding of typography and layout.’

Designers frequently must take into consideration shifting environmental, economic and  technological contexts, but with ever-growing globalisation, one of the most challenging tasks for designers today is working across a diversity of cultures. Without undergoing extensive and immersive research, understanding the needs and sensitivities of a foreign culture can be very problematic. Gozde Goncu-Berk highlighted these difficulties when she said, “Designing for another culture is less intuitive and vulnerable to assumptive thinking; therefore cross-cultural design requires constant validation of design decisions with the users. Designers need to be aware of their biases and assumptions as much as possible to draw insights from the user’s reality.”

For example, the culture of a country such as Indonesia is significantly different to Australia in many ways. Therefore an Australian designer must take time to understand the religious, social and political climate of the country before embarking on any kind of user-centered design. Without gaining this information, the designer cannot assume they know how the locals would interpret, receive, understand or interact with their design.

Throughout their practice designer’s must develop skills in innovation and creativity. These invaluable tools, when implemented in a way that is harmoniously integrated with the given contexts, have the power to significantly reshape and improve global society.


Gonku Berk. G, 2013.’A Framework for Designing in Cross-Cultural Contexts: Culture-Centered Design Process,’ PhD Thesis, University of Minnesota, viewed 18 February 2017, <;

Blair-Early, A. 2010, ‘Beyond borders: Participatory design research and the changing role of design,’ Visible Language, Vol.44 ,No.2 ,Pp.207-218.

Xiang, X. 2007, ‘Product innovation in a cultural context: A method applied to Chinese product development,’ Dissertation Abstracts International, Vol.68, No.03, Pp.73-77.


Ahlefeldt, F. ‘It’s not that deep,’ viewed 19 February 2017, <;

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