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Designing Across Cultures

Designing Across Cultures

Essential knowledge for all designers
A Review by Fred Showker

BEST BOOK FOR 2002As far back in my design career as I can remember there has been some form of cultural awareness among the advertising and publishing industry. This became a striking reality to me, personally, after I presented a "Graphics Tips" seminar at a desktop publishing conference in Washington D.C. Shortly following the conference I began getting inquiries by phone and email on where to find ethnic and cross-culture clip art. At that time, the mid-eighties, these themes in available art were all but nonexistent. At least some of the publishers, writers and marketers at the conference recognized a real need to include cultural markets rather than alienate them.
___ Fast forward to today's culture and you'll find that the need for culture specific or culture neutral imagery is not just desirable, but imperative for real success. Check it out: In the 10 years between the 1990 and 2000 Census counts, the U.S. Hispanic population has grown by 57.9%, Asian- American, by 48.3% and African-American (and black), by 15.6%. Compare that to only 5.9% growth in the general white population, and it's easy to see the trends.
Designing Across Cultures
Some images are actually offensive to viewers in other cultures. For instance, this image seems harmless enough. However to a wide market of Asian readership chopsticks upright in a rice bowl means death.
___ In less than 10 years, half of U.S. residents under 21 years of age will be a member of an ethnic group. Already, ethnic groups make up the majority in California, according to the results of the 2000 Census. In fact, the very term "general market" is heading for obsolescence.
___ As I've always preached, it's the designer's solemn obligation to purvey the client or editor's message in the most advantageous way -- optimally to the target audience -- ideally to the widest possible audience and marketplace. Forget about your own likes or dislikes and wake up to cultural differences.

A wake-up call for designers

This is the opening wake-up call to all designers in the latest work by Ronnie Lipton, award-winning journalist and publications designer -- Designing Across Cultures. In this milestone work, Lipton interviews more than 130 agencies and designers who specialize in ethnic audiences. As you read the text you get the sober message that you're chasing away potential readers and customers just by the colors, images and layouts of your ads and publications.
___ "If you dilute what's ethnic about a design until the client gets it, you risk watering down or losing entirely -- the intended impact on the audience. Or worse: A design that doesn't ring true may turn off the audience, wasting all that effort and expense. Your client's competitors will thank you." Lipton points out that many major corporations have invested in the need to understand these "new" filters. They're forming ethnic-marketing departments and working with ethnic specialty agencies. You'll see in this book, that's not enough to avoid blunders. Some companies and their designers are still learning (the expensive way,) that it takes a sensitive touch to design for ethnic groups. Effective design begins here:

...You can't assume what's culturally relevant to an ethnic group (or subset of that group) that you don't belong to -- and, that it's not even safe to assume it for a group you do belong to."


In a world of increasing print and broadcast media outlets, ethnic groups fuel the demand for ethnic-targeted design. Everyone everywhere is seeing print and broadcast content that spans across borders -- and cultures. For instance, the huge popularity of African-American and Hispanic performing artists has exerted a powerful influence on fashion, language and graphic images, even for the general market.
___ More importantly, the internet has generated a title wave of multi-national of consumers and information gatherers. In the past five years, our traffic in the Design Center has proven this rule. Today, nearly half of the visitors come from outside of the US.

"it's the images that hold the power to connect"

___ Designing Across Cultures takes you through the major cultural barriers and shows you the difference between culturally successful design and that which is potentially objectionable to a large percentage of your readership.

Lipton writes:
"So how do you communicate with your ethnic audiences? You begin as you would for any other: Base your design on insights into the audience. Then imbue these designs with subtle visual cultural cues. Visual design is important in reaching ethnic audiences, especiafly those for whom English is a second language."
___ "Here's why: In the first seconds that a person views a message-before even reading a word, no matter what the language -- it's the images that hold the power to connect. It's the images that make a viewer decide even whether to read a word."

So ask yourself:

  • Do you know how Asian readers will react to a black reverse ad?
  • Do you know what socially acceptable American icons spell disaster in the Latino marketplace?
  • Do you know why you must avoid images of THREE people in an international market place?
  • Do you know how "black" your black should be when your images will be seen by Afro Americans?

Designing Across Cultures provides the guidelines and examples you need to start creating designs that speak to specific ethnic groups. Each of the major U.S. ethnic groups are examined, including Asian-Americans, U.S. Hispanics, African-Americans, and European-Americans. The differences between ethnic subgroups are also surveyed, from Korean to Puerto Rican to Russian and dozens more.

You'll also find:

  • Guidelines for steering clear of stereotypes and recognizing the boundaries between myth and cultural truth
  • Insights into meaningful religious and secular icons, colors and symbols * Examples of what not to do -- including real-life blunders and how to avoid them
  • Informative sidebars with regional ethnic demographics that make it easier to target your audience
  • Details on ethnic holidays and other dates of importance that can add an extra layer of meaning to your designs

Wake up designers...

the U.S. marketplace is no longer what you may think. If your ads and editorial images are to be successful at gaining market share, then you've got to understand rather than offend. Ethnic audiences, like any audience, view the world -- and your designs -- through a cultural filter formed by language, religion and shared experience. Make sure your work rings true, touching each audience with the honesty and insight they respond to.
___ Aside from the in-depth editorial content of this book, it is superbly designed, and exquisitely printed by HOW books / FW Publications with lots and lots of color. Throughout you'll see examples supporting the content -- beautifully presented, and extensively documented. While the book speaks directly to designers, it also offers intelligent insight into today's culture in a media driven world -- enlightening and entertaining reading for anyone!
___ Ronnie Lipton has done the design community a grand service with her "Designing Across Cultures" -- this is vital information for anyone who designs advertising or editorial content intended to be read by a wide target market. Now all you have to do is read it. You'll profit, and your clients will thank you!

Designing Across Cultures
by Ronnie Lipton


List Price: $35.00
Our Price: $24.50
You Save: $10.50 (30%)
Hardcover: 192 pages; (March 2002) Publisher: How Design Books


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