Vernacular design: moving towards a symbiotic relationship between local and global commoditization.

Elvert Durán Vivanco University of Bio-Bio , Chile. Post-Graduate Design Student, the School of Design Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building University of Technology Sydney AUSTRALIA Co-Author George Verghese Director of Post-Graduate Design, the School of Design Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building University of Technology Sydney AUSTRALIA

The idea of Vernacular Design is commonly associated with native or domestic features where local commodities can emerge as a spontaneous response to people’s daily life. However these expressions are not sitting solely in the domain of local design, but also exist in a symbiotic relationship with global commoditization.

This paper will show that it is important to understand these expressions not just as creative acts that reinforce local development, habits and beliefs, but that they also express culture as interpreted through the eyes of designers in a competitive global market.


It is a richness in cultural expression that builds on a spectrum of local ideas. Hybrid.This paper reflects on the current literature and through two case studies in Chile and Australia. However. customs. Introduction: The term vernacular design is commonly associated with the native or domestic features of a local community in which the responses to daily life are articulated in the commodities produced by that community. Globalisation and the design of cultural commodities It has been well recognized that cultural expressions. in terms of design. to be a global and local citizen at the same time. materials. Global commoditization. demonstrates the relationship between the artifact produced and the identity of the locale. and that of being part of a global village. This paper will demonstrate how it is possible. 2 . Key words: Vernacular. These constitute a universal map where boundaries are not just determined by political or 1 Symbiosis is a biological term that considers the kind of association between different species. vernacular design and this expression of the local and the everyday in design can also be conceptualized as a symbiotic 1 relationship with global commoditization. such as language. and art manifestations among other pillars of cultural society playa critical role in design. In doing so this paper argues that this holistic approach allows for a more a mature design ethos in the fine balance of the vernacular design identity. and techniques. This term literally means the ordinary and ubiquitous but it also refers to qualities of specific to particular region or culture” (Ederson. Millintong & Rantisi. Leslie. I use it here it to refer to cultural features from different regions taking advantage of different cultural associations and in doing so create a relationship of mutual benefit or dependence. habits. 2010).

The phenomenon of cultural diffusion in which the local cultural aspects are transformed into tangible and intangible outcomes catapults cultural products into a global market and diffuses local ideas but does not homogenize them. The consumer also has evolved and consumes goods in a different manner due to the development of globlaisation. architects. The globalization phenomenon is the result of socio-economical and political changes that has molded a new version of a single global market mainly led by multinational and powerful companies. Creative individuals. As a part of this process. musicians and all who belong to the cultural spectrum. engage in this fundamental role of cultural diffusion. such as designers. despite the occasional protective stances by tariffs. countries often adapt their commodities in order to suit their global products in a local context. leading to easy customer access to a variety of important cultural commodities from around the world. Today. those influences have been reinforced by technological advances such as ICT manufacturing and distribution. She describes a process which 3 . as to the factors in which the globalisation is considered. in all its forms. where empires have subjugated surrounding and remote areas for periods of time. artisans. forming a rich. This free flow of ideas is not something new. This has led to forms of hybridisation of cultures. cultural landscape. across countries.geographical divisions but also by features and peculiarities where people around the world can be identified and recognised according with their expressions. It is a model that encourages a free flow of private capital. Morris (2002) extrapolates the term “glocalization” from the marketing field. plastic artists. its origin was cemented at the beginning of the first inter-regional trade routes. Designers impart the same energy towards practical and functional concerns. Some of the most relevant and significant forms of international exchanges are brought about through the economic and political treaties that lead to alliances between foreign countries.

).L.etymonline. idem (neut. This powerful and complex tool for creative concern is underlying several layers. it is essential for products to be attractive Identity: 1560s. identitas) "sameness.) "the same" (see identical). abstracted from identidem "over and over. the word “identity” came from the word 2 “identitas” which indicates sameness or the idea of belonging. Through the power of media and technology consumers are constantly bombarded by foreign influences no mater where they live." from ident-. In the constant battle to achieve a successful exchange between product and cultural identity. with the intention to increase and spread their economic power. This enormous fountain of cultural richness has an origin that involves places and its people.Fr." from phrase idem et idem. Vernacular design as a product of cultural commodities in contemporary life. comb. identité ( To clarify this concept etymologically. is intensively charged by cultural wisdom and reinforced by the idea of cultural identity. and this sharing of global ideas within the contexts of local and diverse communities presents opportunities for interesting and complex exchange of ideas. the result of a complex market and the expansion of international production chains.(source:http://www. Another important aspect to take into consideration is the role that “identity factors” play in our everyday life as consumers within our globalised context.php?search=identity& searchmode=none) 2 4 . from M. This means that tangible commodities and information can be shared on a global platform. the idea of cultural identity is supported by local aspects that give an interesting accent of peculiarities in daily life . (5c. from L.) identitatem (nom. form of L. 1995. and provides a source of inspiration.

This shift has affected the product-scenario creating new sales strategies. economical. In order to face a vertiginous global situation. but fundamental concern that “locally created solutions can ultimately lead to national models for community-based social services”. in some sense. recognising cultural and geographical differences. can describe and reinforce the idea of opportunities for openness in cultural commodity exchanges. it is important to recognise that the contexts in which design occurs have changed dramatically and radically. This is also argued by Cottam (cited in Brown. This shift is reinforced by a popular phrase to “think globally to act locally” (Powel and Ghauri. These are changes to some features in order to fulfill the need of the local market. This. Even in remote and small places it is possible to create this kind of chain of values. In terms of the educational paradigm. 2008). T. where peculiarities and exotic features can be attractive and interesting to outsiders. This notion of vernacular design has significant implications for the teaching of design. and leveraging these to produce new services and products. helps in the process towards creating a more meaningful and successful cultural commodity. and semantic dimensions. technological. this in a more appropriate relationship to the local characteristics an understanding and empathy for foreign cultures . 2010). Those cultural goods able to overcome geographical barriers. Thus creative cultural commodities are key elements to appeal to consumers. 2009) who goes on to identify a reduced. it seems that it is urgently necessary to upgrade to a more 5 . are those which commonly used creativity as one of the most important elements to achieve this. (Ederson et al. making possible a suitable performance in functional. customers. It is here that creative individuals such as product designers are able to synthesize solutions to address these complex demands. Educational paradigm.

Nowadays. highlight the role of “the message” of these commodities and how designers are transmitting those key points through an emotional identity. new niche markets. These customer preferences are not just an impulsive and undelivered trend of consumption. Indeed. materials and markets throughout history by imparting different approaches. These aspects were no less a focus. but made with a profound sense of ethical consciousness. It seems that a considerable number of consumers are increasingly about more than the final product where it is manufactured and by who. In other words. creative individuals have responded to radical change in techniques. and even ethical issues. cultural goods in a local and global concern should not be solely restricted to being viewed through local conditions. aims and inspirational sources. 6 . the designer’s role has changed rapidly over the last decades. these features are an integral part of the vision for cultural products. Peter Zec and Vito Orazen (2003). 1994). In this case. the contemporary role of design is driven by new policies of production and distribution. These creative skills become essential in many stages of design and its contexts. New approaches should be based-on more holistic and innovative ideas. especially when crisis. Tahkokallio and Vilma argue there is a transcendence of semantic concern into the object in at least two ways: “those codes belonging to the creative process of artifact and those codes interoperated by society” (Tahkokallio and Vilma. aesthetic and emotional appeal. but with different consumer requirements of coverage and technical achievement. Once a simple bridge between technological and aesthetic concerns in the past. This kind of distinction could mark a difference. and fair trade for example. technological challenges. environmental concern. in the way people can recognize and prefer them to a variety of products in a globalised scenario. Companies are largely interested in those approaches related with social and ethical inequities.integrated view of vernacular design.

Papanek emphasises the implication of design and its ability to encourage the decentralisation of production at the same time as the creation of opportunities for new areas of development intimately connected with some local capabilities and “know-how”. Tahkokallio and Vilma. balanced and holistic way. secondly. However it seems that a vernacular design approach brings together a combination of all of these features simultaneously bringing new opportunities for products in an interesting. vernacular design has a remarkably important contribution which extends our understanding of the distinct drivers of design. Food. those designers who are highly influenced by technological and functional concerns. those who are mainly concerned with building the connection between industrial design and cultural aspects. 7 . Thanks to the rising value of creative industries.uncertainties and sudden changes are drawing a complex panorama in vulnerable regions in socio-economic and humanitarian concerns. known as protected destination of origin (PDO). the unique contribution and value of local techniques. he claims that the main problem with the design discipline is not the marketing. Papanek (1983) points out the importance or the type of consequence that every object created brings with it. (1994) have argued that there are three main types of designers: firstly. thirdly. (2010). nor manufacturing and the control quality. clothes. According to Ederson et al. Under this ethical perspective. but the “lack of relationship between design and people”. More than 25 years ago. vernacular creativity implies a “range of mundane but intensely social forms and practice”. those who are driven by economic and social working condition. That is because countries have detected the importance of these traditional niche markets and their economical benefits. In some ways countries have become more concerned about these particular products that belong to their culture. In other words vernacular design emerges from a territory full of connotative charges and is denominated by origin . style and material are increasingly being promoted in developing countries.

However. Bangkok. Source: International Institute for trade and development. evoking the vernacular.) reinventing tradition i. these 4 stages of vernacular design. not just as a mere tangible commodity. but also as a sort of envelope which contains a particular evoking message that should be delivered to the correct receptor in a suitable way. Table 1: Top 20 exporters of creative goods worldwide. services associated with experiences.) extending tradition i.e. limit the 8 . the use of contemporary idioms”. (3. (2. “This came from”.th/en/node/1010 Thus. Considering the complexity of Vernacular Design. using the vernacular in a modified manner and (4. Vernacular design stages.e.e. Viewed in http://www.appliances. are just part of this profitable cultural business. The experience of a commodity underpinned by vernacular design motivates the consumer to purchase something by evoking thoughts such as “I was there”. travel and so on. 1996 – 2005.) reinterpreting tradition i. we could interpretate the new role of products. Ivar Holm’s (2006) analysis of Vernacular Design sets out four clearly defined new strategies:“(1.or. there is a desire to classify its features in different stages depending on the sense of projection of it original stage in more sophisticated manners.) reinvigorating tradition i. to some extent.itd.e. on time. the search for new paradigms. Thailand.

scenarios and customer habits have also altered.. adapting their commodities in order to suit their global products in a local context. Simultaneously. Glocal is phenomena register . device or information capable of reasoning with the local and transferring to global . this is an interesting phenomenon that occurs frequently in this shared environment. the principles of vernacular design outlined by Holm. 2006) do not operate independently or without variation. Under this new and complex scenario of hybridisation of cultures designers must now consider that the market have a reasonable level of hybridization in terms of background and patterns of consumption. Holm’s framework does not fully take account of the range of different possibilities that emerge through combinations of these stages. for each concrete situation. (Bru . This notion is central to arguments for the re-thinking of vernacular design. this new stage in cultural commodities has reached a more complex and flexible state in order to suit a contemporary demand of cultural goods. This ‘rethinking’ is premised on the argument that a pure condition for these type of products cannot always be guaranteed. which started as a result of the life style post world war in Italy. a certain local map of the global scene.Tuk” in the crowded Bangkok’s streets. this is probably due to the fact that times have changed. especially in those countries that are using Glocalisation 3.kind of design intervention possible. We can look at the example of the way how people carry babies probably inspired by ancestral culture. Consequently. E. Undoubtedly. In doing so it offers additional insights and approaches deemed to be essential in understanding vernacular design in the 21st century. A fifth condition is also possible. as a result of the relationships of these elements: ‘the hybrid condition’ which relates more profoundly to people’s everyday life. the picturesque “Tuk. et al. capable of being a system and place at the same time. As mentioned before. Using the technology available and considering the new need for the family’s 3 Glocalisation: Global and local. Glocal is able. to yield . 9 . or the iconic design of “Vespa”. 2000).

Figure2:EvenFlo Snugli Carrier. Figure 1: Example of vernacular design across the history: Carrying baby. at the same time extending its vernacular condition in a more holistic and sophisticated outcome as a motorcycle.html). adjusting some features in order to tailor them to work focused on what type of commodity can work properly outside of its home market. Sources :(http://aleasemichelle. in part because it evokes the past of this European Just the idea of the adaptation of products with local features into other milieu. new ways of thinking laterally.transport. the Vespa has become popular around the world.typepad. or even considering new strategies that involve co production with local firms . It seems that struggles and benefit are shaping the way that the entire world is facing a new era of commodities exchange. is something that demands new strategies. Tahkokallio & Vilma have emphasised the “Multicultural aspects” and how products are labelled in categories such as emotional. functional The authors mention the case study of socialist countries in 10 . Navajo Indian carrying baby. (http://momsbabysling. Cases studies : Multicultural scenarios for vernacular design. contextual.

with different backgrounds and cultural richness. This organization is an interesting model of business through a chain of point of sales and e-shops. resulting in a lack of coherent cultural aesthetic or even decontextualised. 1994). The idea to create a global network of co operation. Oxfam shops sell unique. handcrafted goods and commodities. semantic and social connotation are crucial factors when we are talking about a suitable interpretation of design and cultural identity (Tahkokallio and Vilma. a dynamic and coordinated use of technical skills and the awareness of socio-economic issues is not always an easy thing to achieve. where consumers can appreciate a variety of products. In others words. The internet has provided an interesting “window” where useful and ornamental cultural commodities are available for the rest of the global community. is reinforced under the umbrella of social and economic creative 11 . made by experts across the world. considering all the factors involved in creative tasks. It is remarkably interesting the role that Oxfam plays in order to provide a path where the know how. formal. through 23 stores across the country and online . Through its work. it is generating a suitable platform between developed and developing countries in order to materialize in products an interesting offer generating a deep sense of appeal for this attractive way to manage and lead creatively an organization. emergency help support and campaigning for changes. Vernacular design in Australia and Chile. Oxfam Australia is a non-governmental organization mainly focused on improving the quality of life in remote areas and undeveloped counties. with a vernacular cultural expression.Eastern Europe (specifically the case of the Chamber of Commerce in Estonia) where some products were imitated from the “western model”. Its focus is on supporting long terms projects.

12 . the technological transfer or know-how that provides a strong bridge between local producers and vernacular products with cultural identity.such as Chile. In this regard. Facing new and demanding challenges in our contemporary scenario.concern. creative professionals such as designers are playing a more tangible role. 2009 ) . representing regional identity through different technical skills. materials and folklorist sources of inspiration. Source http://www. which is non-governmental organization that has developed a network of micro-entrepreneurs. designers must be highly aware of these opportunities. Annual Report. Figure 3: Oxfam Australia products from different regions of South-east Asia and South America.(Oxfam Australia. There is also an interesting point that embraces cultural and socio-economic aspects. technology seems to be a important ally for contemporary vernacular design. especially in context such as third world countries where conditions or alternatives are limited for fair competition within the developed world. Above all considering vernacular expressions as a useful and powerful tool to create synergy among local centers of development in a competitive form. Cultural products can be perceived with a strong background. there is a valuable pioneer action called TPH “Trabajo para un hermano” (Work for a brother). in another region of the South Pacific . focused on the production of a variety of vernacular as protagonists who channel talent and efforts for local entrepreneurship.oxfamshop. in terms of precedence and also a In this regard.

These cases mentioned are intimately connected by a sense of hybridity in their outcomes. working on projects related with leather and wicker in different places of the South American region. This paper also considers two examples that illustrate vernacular product design: one situated in the South of Chile. The sense of hybridity in products allows a more interesting . ideas that are usually buried in the veil of vernacular design are expanded to reach a global market which frees the ideas of boundaries set up by vernacular design being on a local commodity and diffuses the idea to a global audience. Rather. In doing so Holm’s four criteria are comfortably expanded to include the important link to global factors in and 13 . Sometimes this can be a challenge considering how delicate and rooted certain aspects of vernacular expression are embedded in the local pysche. and technological . which allows us to visualize a more profound and illustrative comprehension of contemporary vernacular design on opposite sides of the globe. it shows richness and diversity and the evolution of an idea. with a group of design students from the University of Bio-Bio. Conclusions Designers need to understand that their role is that of a catalyst capable of transforming intangible features into a tangible expression of culture a role that is remarkably important for them to comprehend and apply this understanding in the most convenient.A suitable and well balanced triad of elements . but at the same timesharing the same hemisphere and economic interests. Designers play a crucial role in interpreting these features correctly and applying them in a concrete and suitable solution. integrated and balanced vernacular design approach. This diffusion does not weaken an idea or homogenize it with other global brands. In doing so.must be considered to manage a suitable. sensitive and precise way. cultural.

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