While there is ample room in one definition of “culture” for the notion of creating: pearls, stones, moonshineâ€” when we conflate the anthropological, psychological, and sociology definition: religious culture, national culture, even office culture â€”and make it a design goal, or systems design goal, is where we risk slipping. The words contrived and artificial come to mind. And if you start there, chances are, youâ€™ll finish there. Using examples of companies that have created a version of a culture through a well-developed product and some gifted individuals (the obvious ixample) is fine, even inspiring, but making the inversely proportional leap that if you design in a certain way, you can create a culture is backasswards. It might happen, it might not, but as an approach to process, it seems pseudoscientific. Culture, like shit, happens.
When I review the cultural rites and their corresponding artifacts that are important to me, they are either spontaneous in origin, serendipitous, or purely adhere to a form follows function dictum: modern Jews still use menorahs for example because of oppression and survival reasons thousands of years old, other cultures created drums because they needed musical release and gourds were abundant, etc. I covet my ipod because itâ€™s a brilliant innovation and appealing design, not because it puts me in some â€œtribeâ€ with someone else [yes, Iâ€™m over thirty]. Thereâ€™s no humility in that, no belief larger than oneself in that sort of pseudo culture, save the almighty Steve Jobs. Practically speaking, if you look at an iLife as a culture, itâ€™s more insular than uniting, as the marketing lets on. An insular culture is oxy moronic.
While things can enter the zeitgeist in a variety of ways, including events that become cultural phenomenon by pure design, I personally am most interested in listening to reggae performed by Jamaicans and eating sushi prepared by Japanese. There are instances (as Hugh pointed out) where marketing trumps authenticity (our first domestic import, Haagen-Dazs comes to mind) but they are far and few between; in fact most people probably donâ€™t know that Haagen-Dazs always was an American company.
There is a fine line between culture and trend. While it’s true that certain things break through and in fact may become a significant weave in our cultural fabric, the over-emphasis on this notion of culture creation alone does not make significant strides toward a healthful journey from the junk on our shelves to those things that culture meaning. Not only is it arrogant, but the misnomer degrades the meaning of culture. The whole point is that itâ€™s this meaning weâ€™re after as designers (and people in general). So while this may be an issue of linguistics, and my response is not necessarily a polemic on Scottâ€™s core point, I just want to be sure weâ€™re using similar definitions while pursuing this debate.
The achievements, customs, and social institutions of a people evolve naturally --fast or slow-- growing and changing as we change. So should their artifacts. Forcing it is pretense. So As designers, our approach should be a thoughtful reflection of this process, one that indicates we are listeners, artists, and sometimes visionaries, but we should always be humble and cautious of hubris. Itâ€™s dangerous to think that we can whip up some culture on our whiteboards and Blackberries.
I donâ€™t know the answer but feel obliged to attempt an alternate perspective. Rather than focusing on culturing design, we need to improve our design culture. While itâ€™s very American to rush things, our true strength lies in our ingenuity, work ethic, and tunnel vision (all of which produce various outcomes). American design will be reborn with distinct flavor at a natural pace. And when it does, I imagine it will see its day as a world leader. Whatâ€™s most empowering is that all signs seem to point to a revolution that has improved priorities over the old paradigm.