Design for Culture and Sustainability

Posted on  29 September, 2020


Hello, Bonjour, Hola, 你好, Guten Tag, こんにちは, Привет, Merhaba, Jó Napot, Здраво!

We often tend to believe that cultural differences are becoming insignificant rapidly given the increased global outlook in every walk of life. Henceforth, we have witnessed the launch of products that follow one size fits all philosophy with an objective to accommodate a wider set of audience. It’s a separate discussion if such products end up exceeding the expectations or not, what’s evident is that such products fail to deliver customised experiences, which has become one of the most crucial expectations of the end-users. Culture reflects our values and our behaviour – not only in our everyday lives but also in our digital interactions. What makes us trust a digital product, what catches our notice, what colours evoke what kind of emotions, what nudges us to take an action, it all varies from culture to culture. Designers who do not take these parameters into account while designing will fail to ensure sustainable cross-cultural user experience.

As this year’s IxDD theme challenges the interaction design community to explore their impact on culture and sustainability in their work, workplace, communities, and beyond, we make an attempt to demonstrate how interactions design is evolving towards making more space for cultures and for creating sustainable design literature.

Designing for different cultures

There can be a huge difference between two cultures. What works amazingly great in the United States might not work at all in the Middle East. The choice of colours used in the Indian version of the website may not connect with a European. Culture influences internet usage, information consumption, trust, technology adoption, perceived values and many more. As a designer, it’s imperative to address cultural characteristics in the design. And this requires in-depth research about the market, people, their pain points, motivations, challenges and expectations.

Culture Diversity

If you’re designing a banking app for Millenials in the USA, it may sound wise to assume that most of the users will be getting high-speed internet connection on their phones. However, when you are designing a similar kind of app for Algeria, where internet connectivity requires a radical facelift, your design approach will be more oriented towards making the application lighter and usable. Similarly, there are many cultural dimensions that influence user’s perceptions, which in turn, influence their decision-making as well.

If companies want to mark an impact, design has to be functional and relevant to differing cultures. This could be referred to as localisation of design. And localisation of design can be achieved through

1. Research, Research & Research

Research about Culture AND Communities

The more you research about the cultures and communities, the more you get to know about their unique usage patterns and expectations from your product. Without proper research, your biases for your own culture will end up dominating your design thoughts.

2. Get rid of all your biases

We have certain kind of perceptions already built for every culture, community and country, which may or may not be true. Continuation of this prejudice can be fatal for your product. The best way is to adopt a more inclusive approach of learning the culture you’re designing.

3. Identify the common traits

While every culture is different, there is a lot they have in common. Patterns exists everywhere. Observe how others communicate, value, interpret, and receive information. Identify the patterns and use them to design for culture.

Creating a culture of sustainability

Sustainable development is a vision of development that encompasses populations, animal and plant species, ecosystems, natural resources and that integrates concerns such as the fight against poverty, gender equality, human rights, education for all, health, human security, intercultural dialogue, etc. (UNESCO)

For many, sustainability is synonymous with green or eco, meaning the environment. To others, it matters more with respect to the planet and the life on it. Sustainability is related to business as well, as it ensures a smooth financial picture and business as usual for enterprises.

But where do sustainability stand in design? What significance it has for the designers?

Culture of sustainability means a strategic and consistent approach to problem-solving in continuous pursuit of improving the lives of people. It’s a design philosophy that ensures that the user experience will evolve over course of time regardless of any external factor. To ensure sustainability, designers need to see beyond the immediate benefits and to look at the long term effects of the design. Then we can begin to move towards creating products and services that last longer and reach more people.

Culture of sustainability


Culture and art have a direct connection with each other. The designs are received differently by different cultures and communities. In order to create a design that’s widely accepted across a particular culture, designers must learn and understand the culture closely. They need to understand the cultural heritage, the legacy, social stigmas, beliefs and superstitions in order to arrive at a successful and sustainable design.