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#42 Un-designing your biases
...plus an iconic book jacket with 12-inch teeth.
Design Lobster #42 has landed. This week we’re asking what it means to design across cultures and admiring a design icon of the dinosaur kingdom. Grrr 🦖.
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Question: What is cross-cultural design?
I recently listened to designer Senongo Akpem talk about the challenges of designing for cultures other than our own. His book Cross-Cultural Design was released earlier this year and details what we can do to make our designs work for people with different languages, lives and cultures.
Beyond tactical everyday steps, Senongo argues that the most important change to make is one of mindset. By embarking on a design project in full awareness of our own assumptions and bias, we can then plan design and research processes to actively counteract these.
In Design Lobster #13 we looked at the work of Pattie Moore and her theory of Universal Design. Her realisation was that by considering those whose needs were unusual, you could design things that worked better for everyone. I think there is an interesting parallel to draw here with cross-cultural design. It seems to me that designing with cross-cultural mindset – where we question our own assumptions and demonstrate true curiosity about our users’ lives – will result in better designs for everyone. Whether they are from another culture or our own.
Design takeaway: What biases are you bringing to your design without realising?
🔊You can listen to Senongo on the podcast from Presentable here.
Object: Jurassic Park book cover
The silhouette on this book cover will (probably) be recognisable to everybody reading this. It was designed by Chip Kidd in 1990 for the book jacket of the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Tracing a tyrannosaurus skeleton from a drawing in a book he bought from the gift shop at the Museum of Natural History in New York, it was then a simple matter of arranging it with the title and name of the author to create the jacket. After the success of the book, the rights to the silhouette were purchased by Universal for the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie (and sequels) making it a globally famous icon.
My responsibility as a book designer is three-fold; to the reader, to the publisher, and most of all to the author. I want you to look at the book and say WOW, I want to read that.
– Chipp Kidd
I am most struck by the simplicity of the idea. For a story about genetically engineered dinosaurs, Chip simply shows the skeleton of one here in the familiar reanimated form that museums present them. That simple silhouette though – with its profusion of teeth and claws is menacing, and thus sets the scene for the disaster story within. It’s both more graphically intense than a flesh and blood illustration would be and leaves more to our imaginations.
Design takeaway: Where can you show restraint in your design to have more effect?
🦖Watch Chip tell the story of designing the cover in this TED talk. He’s a hoot.
Quote: “One cannot create happiness with beautiful objects, but one can spoil quite a lot of happiness with bad ones.”
– Finn Juhl, Architect and Industrial Designer
Finn Juhl worked in Denmark and became famous in the middle of the 20th century for his modernist chair designs, which used hardwoods like teak carved in rounded organic shapes. I think his quote here is quite clever. In design work it can be possible to overemphasise the impact of aesthetic choices on people’s wellbeing and designers have often been criticised for doing so. Finn counters this criticism by reframing the impact – whilst beautiful objects cannot perhaps create happiness by themselves, ugly ones can nevertheless spoil people’s moods if they were feeling happy before.
And after all, who would want to ruin someone else’s day? 😉
Have a great day,
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