Context plays a significant role in how a design is received and shaped. This is due to the nature of a design for when it is realised into the larger world, the designer loses any ability to influence it in the finite and controlled manner that they have interdicted to be accustomed to. In this light the design’s new identity encapsulates its context defined by the adaptations to its original form. As an example of this continuing product design journey, we can examine the pervasive and vivacious part that the motorcycle plays in Indonesian culture.

Due to a rapid increase in purchasing power of the average Indonesian within the last 20 years, motorcycle use is experiencing a boom. Currently some 77 million individual motorcycles are registered to drive on Indonesian roads, up from approximately 40 million in 2008. Such a rapid technological take up is seemingly unprecedented in a developing nation such as Indonesia, as it does not seem economically feasible. However, when examined more closely, the issue reveals itself to be more complicated.


Image of the streets of Jakarta in rush hour. (Google image, 2008)

In the last three decades, motorisation and urbanisation have been the trend in many metropolitan areas in developing countries. Lack of job opportunities and public facilities outside major cities has initiated rapid urbanisation in many metropolitan areas.“Such consumer culture is strengthened by the market expansion of industrial products from advanced countries, carried out by the process of globalisation.”( Scriven, 2012) This is indeed the case in Indonesia, as the urban population has significantly increased from 22.3% in 1980 to 42% in 2000, and it is estimated that by year 2020 urban population will reach 50%-60% of the national population. (Jakarilitass, 2008)


The streets of Yogyakarta. (Google image, 2011)

Increased motorcycle use has been attributed to a failing in the public transport system, a political and economic issue. As Indonesia is rapidly propelled from its agrarian labour economy into an urbanised industrial economy, the nexus of its populous becomes a pressing issue. Citizen travelling to work from rural areas are forced to find their own way as the government’s public transport infrastructure fails them, in turn put more strain on the roads connecting economic and urban centres.


The car park at the Watch Tower, Banjarmasin. (Clifton, 2018{My own image})

These implications are outlined in the ABC’s article examining transport in Indonesia. The interviewee Dedy Budisetiono, states that having his own motorcycle is ‘invaluable’ as it is ‘cheaper and a lot faster.” (Budisetiono, 2011)

Furthermore, examining on a more localised scale, many factors become apparent that indicate how the actual design of motorcycles has facilitated their uptake and pervasiveness on such a large scale. Motorcycles are accessible as a technology. Coming from farming implements and predominantly petrol based mechanical equipment, the motorcycle’s engine is easily serviced and maintained. Researchers noted even in the 1930’s, that the “Natives in Java, as elsewhere in the East, have seized on the opportunity given them by the petrol-engine to set up in business on a small scale with taxis and motor-buses.” (Davidson 2007). Building on this, the increasingly popular practice of repurposing 2 and 4 stroke engines into boats and other vehicles has proven the versatility of the technology and ensured its place as a staple artefact in the day to day life of the Indonesian population.

This is a modernisation of the technology that deals with its context. The small size of motorcycle make it an easy way to navigate a cityscape and weave in traffic. Comparing this to the use of motorcycle in Australia where the ratio of motorcycles to people are drastically lower speaks of the differing context. The large size of our cities and population makes cars are more viable choice as the vehicle is required to travel greater distances. As such, this may be an explanation why motorcycles are more considered a luxury or specialised vehicle opposed to the Indonesian’s high consumption of the technology which has seen them become cultural populous

This is expressed in a study of Australian motorbike riders, ride because ‘it provided a sense of adventure, it could free their mind temporarily, it felt like freedom, it was a great hobby, and allowed them to practice and share in social relationships.’

This outlines a different culture value of the design. Moreover, this epitomises a different adaption of the design across culture.

It is clear from this example that the motorcycle has, in the context of Indonesian culture and society, been heavily shaped and altered beyond its original intent. This organic evolution has facilitated its adaptation and growth in popularity, and in turn continued it on the next step of its design journey, affecting both the original design, and the end users who integrated it into their day to day lives. It is thus shaped by its context, mirroring the unique Indonesian culture.

Reference List:

Living in Indonesia 2015, Motorcycles, Jakarta, viewed 28 April 2015 <>

Millsap S 2013, Video: How Do You Get Around Jakarta?, 17 November, Article and Video, viewed 26 April 2015, <>

Davidson J, Henley D 2007, The Revival of Tradition in Indonesian Politics: The Deployment of Adat from Colonialism to Indigenism, Routledge Contemporary South East Asia Series, 12 Mar 2007, pp. 98-99.

Bowles, C, February 16th 2013, ‘Designing With Context’, viewed on 19th April 2015,

Rakun, F, Oct-Dec 2014, ‘Urban Stickers Surfacing In Time’, Inside Indonesia, Edition 118, viewed online on the 19th April 2015,

Setiawan, N, December 12th 2013, 1:54 PM, ‘Remembering City Stickers, Aya-Aya We,

Sparke, P (March 1988), ‘Design in Context’, Book Sales, United States

Google Images. 2018. Motorcycles Indonesia. Viewed on 2 February 2018 .Available at:….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..5.15.2299…0j0i67k1.0.Ys6shxXlkW0.


Google Images. 2018. Motorcycles Indonesia. Viewed on 2 February 2018 .Available at:….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..5.15.2299…0j0i67k1.0.Ys6shxXlkW0.



  1. I had never really considered the impact of the motorcycle as both an object of design and invaluable tool of daily life. It’s interesting to explore how they have come to permeate so many elements of life in Indonesia as a tool for transport and contrast this against how motorcycles are used in Australia.

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