POST A: Contextualising Design

Design is a practice that perpetually dances between input and response. As designers, it is our job to take an informed approach to design situations to drive a pragmatic yet creative response. Under different contexts, however, this equation becomes subject to immense change; we must widen and shift our intellectual scope to accommodate for the assumptions and preconceptions we bring with us.

The physical setting in which the design sphere exists greatly influences the thought processes of the designer. The sights, smells, sounds and feel of an environment all act as inspiration, shaping the way we perceive a design problem; above all, it contextualises any design outcomes produced within that space. We must understand physical constraints and leniences in order to produce a contextualised design, and critically observe the collective purpose behind the elements of which a physical space is comprised (Madanipour, 1999).



Banjarmasin, Helander 2018. 


Reading a physical space simultaneously advances our understanding of the sociocultural forces actuating the movement and change we call ‘life’. Upon studying the differences in lifestyle between Sydneysiders and residents of Banjarmasin, in Banjarmasin itself, it became evident that we couldn’t simply apply a globalised design approach to a local context; instead, the design problem was culture-centrically framed, with the values and lifestyles of the locals integrated ahead of our own for the purpose of generating genuine interest (Dorst et al. 2011). This basic framework can and should be applied to any design context to provide the designer with further insight.

Arguably the most important aspect of intercultural exchange is the way it facilitates the translation of vastly different ideologies, viewpoints and idiosyncratic ideas, providing global links between local scale sociocultural spheres. This of course extends far beyond the confines of design; however the impact on design is pronounced. Newfound ways of seeing, approaches to problems, and noticing the little things are all things that can be applied to our own practice regardless of where we are; as long as we learn from every design context we enter, we begin to build a rich tapestry of experiences that can be applied whenever they are needed, as explored in Susan Piper’s In Between’ (Piper 2008). 

Design has the same effective meaning across all contexts – solving a brief for a client. However, the process, application, and outcome differs immensely across different contexts. The way a context is read, and the way that context asserts its own culture upon the designer forces a broader scope to be developed, which can then be applied to another context at a later time.



Madanipour, A. 1999, ‘ Why are the design and development of public spaces significant for cities?’ Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Vol. 26, pp 879-891

Dorst, K., N.F.M. Roozenburg, L.L. Chen & P.J. Stappers. 2011, ‘Themes as bridges between problem and solution’, Diversity and unity: Proceedings of IASDR2011, the 4th World Conference on Design Research, IASDR, the Netherlands, pp 1-10.

Piper, S. 2008, gang Re:Publik, Gang Festival Inc. Sydney

Helander, T. 2018, Banjarmasin

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