An elusive phantonym, design is a word that means different things to different people, but at its core, is a framework for solving problems thoughtfully and thoroughly. As such, people who believe that can contribute positively to their surroundings replicate it throughout different contexts, both knowingly and unknowingly. It is developing a deep understanding of an issue, the context it exists in and the people who it affects, before creating outcomes to these issue that satisfies these multiple stakeholders. But that is where the universality ends – each individual design problem has its own unique properties that are defined by its own social, economic and geographic context.
Problem definition is the first port of call in the design process, and is happens differently in different contexts. With aviation experts at a loss to why Korean Air had multiple crashes in the 1980’s, journalist Malcolm Gladwell defined the problem as being cultural. In a strict hierarchical structure, the co-pilot would obliquely suggest there was a problem in the cockpit that the lead pilot would not appreciate the severity of and overrule (Malcolm Gladwell, 2007).
The next step problem exploration becomes more difficult in a global context because of language and cultural barriers. In our group’s experience, Banjarmasin was a relatively transparent place and young people spoke English well, so we could still rely heavily on conversation as a means of understanding youth smoking but had to still supplement it with observation and secondary research.
Ideation thrives in some contexts more than others. Creativity flourishes in diverse environments that facilitate the high volume of creative output but the way a society functions can often inhibit this flow of ideas. Communities and organisations like Google and IBM whose leaders (be it CEO, parents, or government) accept failure open the gate to more creative ideas (Amabile & Khaire 2008).
Design solutions are the most noticeable example of how design changes in different contexts influences design. Beautifully, perspectives change from person to person, city to city and country to country. As designers from Australia, designing banners to fit the context of Banjarmasin was difficult. We had to use an unconventionally bright colour palette in order overcome visibility challenges imposed by the inclement weather. These colours, although unconventional and unaesthetic in a global context, were frequently paired throughout the city of Banjarmasin.
Finally, feedback is one of the most important parts of the design process and differs in different contexts. In the medical profession, there is a feedback problem where doctors are reluctant to provide deep feedback to trainees because of time constraints and the desire to develop a positive relationship with the trainees. This leads to under-qualified graduates, with 55% of medical supervisors reporting having passed trainees who could have benefited from additional training (Sultan & Khan 2017).
So while design is relatively rigid framework, the intricacies of different cultures and contexts mean that design process on a different form each time it is engaged with.
Amabile, T., Khaire, M. 2008, ‘Creativity and the role of the leader’, Harvard Business Review, viewed 29 January 2018, < https://hbr.org/2008/10/creativity-and-the-role-of-the-leader>.
Gladwell, M. 2008, Outliers: The Story of Success, Little, Brown and Company, New York.
Sultan, A. & Khan, M. 2017, ‘Feedback in a clinical setting: A way forward to enhance a students learning through constructive feedback’, Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, vol. 76, pp. 1078.