Week 5 Part 1 – Response to 2 Readings

Design, Development, Culture, and Cultural Legacies in Asia

Author(s): Rajeshwari Ghose
Source: Design Issues, Vol. 6, No. 1, Design in Asia and Australia (Autumn, 1989), pp. 31-48
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1511576

Culture-Based Knowledge Towards New Design Thinking and Practice: A Dialogue
Author(s): Benny Ding Leong and Hazel Clark
Source: Design Issues, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer, 2003), pp. 48-58
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1511964


Taken together, these two readings suggest the need for an alternative approach to design in Asia, and that this alternative may have the legs to go so far as to solve the various ‘wicked’ problems our species face, and even possibly unify the 3 major thinking paradigms that underpin global civilisation.

‘Design, Development, Culture, and Cultural Legacies in Asia
’,  from the Autumn, 1989 issue of Design Issues, highlights many of the issues that come along with attempting to understand ‘Asian Design’ through a Western frame, and goes on to repeat a call that seems to be made loudly at least once a decade in the modern world; that a successful integration of Eastern and Western thought, particularly design thought, has the potential to reconcile the faults of both systems and chart us a path to a bright, shiny new future.

‘Culture-Based Knowledge Towards New Design Thinking and Practice: A Dialogue’ is a 2003 interview piece that provides a platofrm for Benny Ding Leong to propose his methods of reconciling East and West, primarily through a system that recognises the strengths of the approaches of 3 major cultures and their paradigms and provides a method for blending them.

Both readings have, to an extent, already had the more pragmatic parts of their calls for change met with the rise of User Centred Design (alternatively called Inclusive Design, Human Centred Design, or for the authors above, just Design). This approach puts the human at the centre of the reflexive design process, with an emphasis on cultural understanding/mapping before starting, rather imposing a pre-concieved solution on a target population.

In ‘Design, Development, Culture, and Cultural Legacies in Asia
’,  Rajeshwari Ghose points out that the Western model of design is a direct descendant of Enlightenment thought, where it is a ‘visible tool of both commerce and industry …  that design could act as a leveler of society through more equitable accessibility to mass-produced goods as well as introduce a sense of clean, rational, impersonal order’. Even if this paradigm became the accepted one in Asia, by virtue of being latecomers to the game, it is difficult to imagine it would ever be seen as satisfactory as it hinges on a rapid and seamless transfer of technology/design from the First World to the rest, leading to, among other societal pushbacks to rapid change and identity reformation, self denigration due to being ‘slow’ learners.

‘Culture-Based Knowledge Towards New Design Thinking and Practice: A Dialogue’  takes a closer look at Chinese culture, and the strains of thought stemming from relatively ancient works such as the I Ching, the Analects and the Dao Te Ching and identifies the core features of Chinese philosophy, and proposes a method for combining philosophies in products to produce something not just sensuous/transcendant/Indian, intuitive/harmonious/Chinese or rational/progressive/Greek but a combination.

3 levelsmodel for layering

The two figures above show a simplified model of this method.

Design, broadly speaking, is the process of living ‘better’ with the world around you. In this broad definition, all human effort past and future can be identified – tempting the hyperbolic or zealous to claim that design can solve any problem, and that we just need to do a little bit better, combine a little more cleverly, to arrive at glorious Utopia. This view is comforting and headline grabbing, but an overreach. The modern definition of design, so closely tied to capitalism, materialism, the upper middle class and mass production is similarly insufficient. For design to truly be able to solve any problem, it needs to be in the hands of the people with the problem. This will require designers to continue to shift from being those that conduct a process of sense, change and artifact making, to those that facilitate, guide and connect it to appropriate resources.



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