Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Grant McCraken

What are the “cultural meanings” in your design?

In an interview with Debbie Millman, Grant McCraken said: “Basically, a design is expressing one or several meanings of a culture.  It is the job of the designer to explicitly express these meanings, in a particular package, for a particular group, at this particular moment…”

Design matters because it’s a great opportunity for giving clients (corporations, institutions…) access to anthropology, sociology, and knowledge of the particular cultures…

The “just trust me” doesn’t cut it when presenting the message.

If the designer is not consciously aware of what “meanings of the culture” he is approaching, maybe he is consciously illiterate about the particular culture, and the designer needs to start doing his due diligence: The Western civilization failed to take seriously the cultures of the emerging economies of China, India, Latin America, the Middle East…

The first condition to crafting a “provocation” in a design is to have a thorough knowledge of the culture and the social world in which you mean for your design to effect any structural change. Designers should not fail to get access to the proper culture, the language, the customs, the dances, the music…

It is up to the designer never to assume that the corporation knows what changes in any culture the designer is targeting. The most critical phase in branding a product or service is identifying the cultural meaning the brand wants to alter, change, or enhance.  The identification phase requires that the team of designers be at the highest of their background knowledge of the particular culture.

For example, Santa used to be dressed exclusively in green, until Coca Cola dressed Santa in Red and White, and particular cloths that never changed in details in all the ads…A corporation may have control over a design until the message gets hold of a culture meaning and belongs to the masses and consumers.

Seth Godin said in the interview:

“Thorough background knowledge of the culture and tradition in designing a brand is a must in order to have any impact:  It is not Photoshop or Illustrator technical skills that define a designer.  There is a need for a mix of history and future expectation in order to feel like growing…For a brand design to appeal to real people, it must be able to connect to feelings we have that go back to age of four.  For example, to reconnect the experienced feeling to a chocolate bar…from the visual, the smell, the shape…”

Many City-States and small States (Dubai, Qatar, Singapour…) are trying to project their brand culture in many major capitals around the world, like building high rises in London, the tallest high rises, gigantic hospitals, ports,…

No new media medium ever killed an older one: Television improved radio, and internet enhanced television…We have a multiplicity of improved medium to select from and adapt to…

The world has reached a climax in fluidity, in abundance of choices, in fast turn-over of technological products, and mankind feels that the best he can do to cope with the quick superficial changes is to learn how to be fluid and respond accordingly. You cannot leave decision and control in the hands of the “elite class” who seek total control for any change in society…

Since we pay dearly both ways for not responding to culture and for opposing change, we might as well learn how the fluid current is heading to.

So far, it feels more of a promissory note that designers will take the trouble to comprehending the targeted culture they are designing for.

McCraken said:

“Time line is a cultural creation:  It is circular, linear…and consequently, we create a future corresponding to our notion of time.  The return of artisanal movements, do it yourself, back to nature… mean that we want to get back to a circular time notion, a future that has a sense of continuity, not moving faster than we can cope with, in touch with the present and past slow human development…

We want a world with manageable propositions, actuated and controlled by mankind limitations and potentials…”

Note 1:  This post was inspired by Debbie Millman ”Brand thinking and other Noble Pursuits”. This book is a collection of 22 interviews with known brand designers and entrepreneurs such as: Wally Olins, Grant McCraken, Phil Duncan, Dori Tunstall, Brian Collins, Virginia Postrel, Bruce Duckworth, David Butler, Stanley Hainsworth, Cheryl Swanson, Joe Duggy, Margaret Youngblood, Seth Godin, Dan Formosa, Bill Moggridge, Sean Adams, Daniel Pink, DeeDee Gordon, Karim Rashid, Alex Bogusky, Tom Peters, Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2: Debbie is president of design division at Sterling Brands and president of the AIGA design association

Daydream project: Restructuring engineering schools and practices…

Technological breakthroughs are exhibiting their medium-term harms: We are at the beginning phase for experiencing the benefits and harms of technologies that we can invent and produce, but do not comprehend or grasp the consequences.

We are traversing a dangerous period without adequate check and balance on the production of new inventions, and are tampering with human genome and agricultural and animal cloning: The consequences might be irreversible this time around on our survival.

We have created enough tools, processes, and know-how to invent all kind of products without the need of thorough theoretical foundations.  It is like a machine that invents new machines with what it already knows. The vast array of tools technology has in its arsenal is driving more technologies:  Theory is becoming an after thought.  Since science requires a rational model, the fast pace of technological inventions decided it can do without theory or rational models .

Experiments require plenty of time, financial and human resources in order to validate and test the consequences of new technological products on human health, and safe usage. The backlog for long-term testing is stretching long, particularly initiated when consumers lodge complaints and file legal suits, and health and safety evaluations can never catch up with what is thrown in the market place.

For example, developed States have realized that a process for testing and validating the consequences of pharmaceutical products before marketing was a must to safeguard health and safety of the consumers; but even that process was not adequate enough or ethically stringently applied when pharmaceutical new products were tested in the third world populations.

Technology is the new metaphysical ideology for defining youth:  You are as young as you can keep up with new updates.  How fast and how readily you can manipulate and use new gadgets is the main criterion for youthfulness, for keeping your membership in the new cult.

The technology cult means that you should have faith in what the market is providing you in updates and inventions, because ultimately, it is you, the kid, the youth who is testing, validating and selling the technology at your own risk.

Technology is basically a cultural revolution against abstract or theoretical works, whether in religion, metaphysics, or sciences. The motto in the technology circles is : “There is no good or evil in technology. Let us keep inventing and let the less expensive and quicker trial and error methods sort out what is beneficial to mankind.  Let youth, these flexible and adaptable mind, these spiritually and culturally ignorant spirits, and these energetically undaunted and bold souls, be our guinea pigs as they used to be historically”.

Mind you that “corporation universities” are surpassing traditional universities and retraining graduates to specific technological fields, sort of hand-on the main business products or services.  Basically, corporation universities are sending the message that the baggage of knowledge of graduates is not appropriate for this fast technology innovation, and fast turn-over of new products.

What of this new “knowledge slavery” of keeping graduate students in a state of training and retraining positions in order to saving money on hiring new personnel and professionals? For more details read

For all the above reasons, it is becoming urgent to rethink how engineering schools are structured.

First of all, since engineering is fundamentally a design field for mankind, the main goal for designing and redesigning objects, systems, and services is to focus on the health, safety, and dangerous malfunctions of any product sold to consumers. The design process is to cater to the target users, and also to the eventual usage of other people not trained or aware of the warnings.

It is necessary that first year engineers and designers (graphic designers, architects…) be conversant with the consequences of designing any product and the various testing and evaluation procedures of the extent to which any design might harm and injure clients.

Learning the different error taxonomies and the research studies on human behaviors when exposed to new objects and systems are a must for any engineer.

Second year engineers should be methodically taught the various experimental designs, and not wait for graduate programs to brush on this highly important field of designing experiments. This idea that the theories behind design are sacrosanct and need not be revisited is a dangerous concept: We need not live with the illusion that we do know how the natural world function.  Critical innovations are generated by revisiting old theories and practices through more experimentation perspectives.

Mind you that people live under different cultures, customs and idiosyncracies, and the designer first task is to be knowledgeable of the culture of the customers. “Good design captures and takes control of every interface and interaction between the consumer and the brand, right down to the tiniest details, from opening to closing of the package…” Grant McCraken

Any engineering research study must be explicit on how the data, results, and recommendations can be applicable in design projects for the health, safety, and comfort of users and operators.




June 2023

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