A Postcolonial Critique of Industrial Design: A critical evaluation of the relationship of culture and hegemony to design practice and education since the late 20th century.
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A Postcolonial Critique of Industrial Design: A critical evaluation of the relationship of culture and hegemony to design practice and education since the late 20th century. This thesis specifically focuses on the professional practices and training of Western industrial designers using postcolonial theory to inform working practices in a complex global ecology. It investigates the culturally hegemonic construction of design solutions in man-made products. By adopting key ideas from postcolonial and cultural studies as a lens to evaluate fields of industrial design discourse, practice and pedagogy, the work proceeds from the premise that design is not intrinsic to a product but the result of a myriad different forces and factors acting on it externally including hegemonic potencies. By reinterpreting technological formations in light of research emerging from post-colonial studies, it attempts to broaden our intellectual understanding of how product design in theory, practice and education can often rely upon western [hegemonic] aesthetic and deep cultural archetypes. The purpose of this enquiry is to highlight the potentials that exist to explore a synergy between east and west in industrial design with a prospective vision for global, trans-cultural design. The research claims that current design practice often leads to culturally determined - rather than universal - conceptions in design and it attempts to re-conceptualise design as practice within a necessarily hegemonic culture. This hegemony needs to be acknowledged and redressed via increased awareness and changes to the intellectual heritage and autonomy of West European and American industrial design, in its dialogue, practice and education. As an epistemological project to identify knowledge within this discourse, it suggests new methodological and strategic approaches to engage with the crisis the discipline faces in light of globalisation so as to open up future discussions in design discourse and give a voice to the many silences that make up the noise of the world. It attempts to: • Further understand the trajectory of hegemony and globalisation in relation to design, technology and culture. • Critically engage with cross- and trans-cultural, global and social design implications. • Address the discrepancies between designers’ culture and users’ culture, to expose the necessity for more culturally-cognizant design practice and pedagogic provision. The research was initiated by identifying a number of questions that designers and users may consciously or subconsciously confront when faced with products that problematise the imagined universal values of designed products in terms of gender and culture. It explores how certain design solutions produced and developed in the west and their diffusion into global, international markets and foreign cultures could affect those cultures by asking in what ways the usability, aesthetic and symbolic characteristics of these artefacts often unwittingly contribute to the privilege or marginalisation of people from particular socio-cultural backgrounds. The thesis intervention is that product designers are neither explicitly trained to comprehend nor surmount their respective cultural constraints and design education both nationally and internationally is not sufficiently equipped with the tools to acknowledge and confront this. The key arguments presented in this thesis are: 1. Products can often be deconstructed to identify cultural connotations or omissions in their design. 2. Global, a-cultural design and universal usability are fallacies that frequently deny the existence of an underlying cultural hegemony at play. 3. Mass-produced products can gradually homogenise and eradicate cultural diversity contributing to the negative effects of colonialist attitudes and/or globalisation. 4. Academia and educational institutions have the potential to extend awareness in this field to inform and train future designers and graduates to better advance design obligations in global, trans-cultural, cross-cultural and multicultural contexts.
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