Design on View: Imagining Culture as a Digital Outcome

Ersin Altin (ersin.altin@njit.edu), New Jersey Institute of Technology, United States of America

Can design represent a culture/nation? Can the tools of digital design be used in collaboration with industrial and interior design to establish an interactive communication with culture? While design and designwork were seen as essential symbols of nation-based identity construction in most of the 20 th century, today, the notion of design deliberately shies away from exposing its cultural/national implications because of global aspirations. Today’s world, dominated by multinational corporations, with its imposition on self-centered identities seemingly curtains the close connection/flirtation of design to its cultural roots. The project that is developed as a collaborative design task at School of Art + Design at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) aims to question and build on the assumption that suggests a connection between design and culture/nation, with the emphasis on the fact that nation is also a social construction (Anderson, 1983).

This poster visualizes the results of the collaborative design project that I taught at NJIT in Fall 2016 and again in 2017. Throughout the semester students from different design fields were expected to work as a group on the design of a pavilion for the culture/nation of their selection that together with other teams formed an imaginary exposition center. Instead of superficial identifications, systematic research process and critical design concepts based on intellectual analysis of the findings determined a basis for the design project. By both researching and producing, teams aimed to create a digital tool that would be developed to investigate whether designwork can represent a culture/nation, subculture or simply a cultural issue. Three teams consist of three students from three different design fields worked on their pavilions that are imagined as interactive tools. These tools incorporating data processing software, motion capture, virtual and augmented reality establish vivid, interactive communication with the user. In doing so, instead of creating informative two-dimensional representations, projects aimed to involve users to explore their contribution to the dynamics of a culture. In other words, instead of imposing a meaning, pavilions ask users to build new meanings via their interactions both with the pavilion and with other users.

The poster documents three different design processes each of which produced its own interactive digital tools to communicate culture. One team envisioned a mobile pavilion for Burlesque culture that offered users to design their own shows. Augmented reality helped users/performers select and put-on a stage costume digitally. With a digital control panel performers were given a chance to adjust atmospheric effects such as light level and color, while physicality of the setting was conceived through a meticulous analysis of the Burlesque culture, such as heavily ornate historic furniture, wallpapers, textile, and decoration.

Second team created a digital crafting tool to educate visitors about Japanese Temari balls, which are toy balls made from embroidery may be used in handball games. Team tackled weaving as a craft with the question how and why weaving can be utilized as data analysis with an emphasis on its fabrication processes by using Japanese Temari balls as a case study. The pavilion encouraged visitors not only to learn about Temari tradition, but also share their experience with other users, who do not necessarily speak the same language or come from similar cultural backgrounds by transforming Temari making into a cultural activity that is virtually organized around a ball game / spectacle.

Burlesque Pavilion by Hideyoshi Azama, Emily Gutierrez, Tulio Squarcio (left); Temari Pavilion by Danielle Archibold, Wuraola Ogunnowo, Florencia Pozo (middle); Pavilion Anahita by Negaar Amirihormozaki, Albeirys Francisco-Parra, Nazifa Hamidullah (right)
Figure 1. Burlesque Pavilion by Hideyoshi Azama, Emily Gutierrez, Tulio Squarcio (left); Temari Pavilion by Danielle Archibold, Wuraola Ogunnowo, Florencia Pozo (middle); Pavilion Anahita by Negaar Amirihormozaki, Albeirys Francisco-Parra, Nazifa Hamidullah (right)

The third team designed a pavilion that aimed to create a community by gathering people both physically in the space of the pavilion and virtually through social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. The team problematized Iran’s mandatory hijab law by connecting the issue to sexism in different parts of the world that creating a network on women’s rights issues. Hijab’s ban in some countries and its enforced use in others were carefully examined to generate a digital forum for different opinions on this specific issue.

This research was conducted to investigate culture’s changing perceptions. Rather than attempting to redefine a preconceived notion of culture by simply incorporating modern technologies, digital tools, and social media, it aimed to reveal new interactive networks that culture forms with other notions and omit others when conventional relations needed replacement; for example, a new interconnectedness instead of nationality. Finally, this project highlighted areas that were defined by the conventional cultural tools and perceptions that are still relevant.


Appendix A

Bibliography
  1. Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso.