Designers decolonizing design.

Questions around culture keep coming up the more we try to answer what culture is. Last week I spoke about my own struggles with adopting culture as an immigrant, not feeling American enough nor quite Honduran. This week we opened conversation by addressing the topic of Decolonization and the effects of globalization.

To the dread of many, we are headed towards another economic crash. Rent is soaring, the poor are being displaced, and the middle class is struggling to survive. Wealth disparity and concentration are at an all-time high, an example being Elon Musk’s modest purchase of Twitter shares. These effects however are starting to affect the rest of the world. Capitalism has reached societies that didn’t use to thrive on consumerism, but are now deeply in debt to purchase the newest iPhone on the market. Not only is this causing economic problems in these communities, but it is accelerating the rate of climate change. Victor Papanek explains that Decolonization is caused by two factors: lack of sustainability and globalization. Going back to the iPhone example, people in Honduras (which is the one country I’m economically familiar with) have been obsessed with Apple products since the 2010’s. It was rare to see iPods, Macbooks, or iPhones at all, and anyone in possession of an Apple product was immediately seen as an elite. Fast forward to 2022, 50% of the population has some sort of Apple product. It is common to see people get in debt to purchase an iPhone. Delinquency and demand for black market Apple products are at an all-time high. This globalization is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and consumerism is happening at the expense of our planet.

How can designers help lessen the effects of globalization and climate change? According to Gui Bonsieppe, we can help by not meddling with “developing” countries. Many (not all) who travel to “developing” countries as designers, missionaries, volunteers, etc. come with a savior mentality: they believe that they can save the people of that country. This is very problematic and often not wanted by locals. For designers, in particular, it is important to practice respectful design, a form of participatory design that includes locals. Design will affect people differently depending on where they’re located, so learning about the people you’re designing for and having them actively involved in your process is crucial. It is also important for cultural preservation and avoiding cultural flattening through minimalist designs.

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