West vs East American Design

I’m curious how product designers see the differences between Western and Eastern US design, meaning the designs that originate in either side of the country. To me, it seems that Western (Texas and on) firms have purer, cleaner forms and more emotive stuff that I personally find more appealing. When I look at lots of East Coast consultancies’ work (there are exceptions of course), I usually see lots of great form ideas, but the surfacing is a little goofey, dated, overly complex, and it seems more technical and/or engineering focused.

I know the East Coast has a more formal mentality in general (like dress code), but would anyone care to enlighten a young designer from the West on the discrepancy in design execution. Is it just that more technical/engineering heavy clients like Medical places are back East?

P.S. - This topic was not meant to start a flame war.

This is going to be good … … .

I’ve lived on the East coast (Boston, MA) my whole life. And while I have never been as far south as Texas (farthest I’ve been being Florida) I would be inclined to agree with you.

The East coast is a lot older than California, and I think that the rest of design that takes place can reflect that. It’d be awfully odd if someone stuck something really clean and modern amongst the otherwise older buildings. And yes, dress codes here are much more formal. I think it just comes down to history. I mean, we have all these old companies, old prep schools/universities…they contribute to the attitude of this coast.

It’s probably not coincidence that most of the cool companies (Telsa Motors, to use one of my favorite examples) pop up in the West coast.

I think your point about the medical clients is a very good one. It has been the case for a long time that hospitals were these ugly, utilitarian blocks. But I was down in the medical district the other day, and passed the new Dana Farber Cancer hospital which is this big, beautiful building

. I’ll take a picture when I get down there next time. That picture doesn’t do it justice.

I’d like to hear what others have to say, though. I’m a bit disenchanted with the design (among other things) of the East coast, and have always been a contemporary design lover regardless. So perhaps someone else will have a less biased opinion :stuck_out_tongue:

Having lived outside of the US I would have to say that the US is a mono-culture with very little differentiation from one side to the other. To say east coats and west coast are different, culturally, is really nitpicking.

Let the games begin :slight_smile:

I would agree that the cultural variation is small relative to other countries.

But do you have any thoughts on the actual designs coming out of different regions in the US? …on what influences the forms and surfaces of the East? Is it the more technical nature of some of the schools out there? It seems like lots of eastern designed products tend to have more complex surfacing that to me can often be bizarre or wonky.

I have spent almost half my life on the east coast and the other half on the west. I grew up on the east coast. But went to design school in the west. From what I have seen there are some cultural differences worth noting. As mentioned the east coast is quite a bit older then the west coast. It definitely shows in the thinking of the area. Fashion is more conservative and dress codes stricter. IMO this cause a stuffiness in approaching design.

On the west coast there is definitely an air of rebellion and individuality. There are many reasons for this but the biggest is the constant influx of new ideas to the west coast. People want to live on the west coast so they move there. This is not saying people do not move to the east coast but there are far more people. Who have lived there for every and “that is just how they do things.” Even in my case my family had lived on the east coast before the revolutionary war.

I also think a lot of the clean design seen out of the west coast is also do to its closeness to Asia and the influence that brings. There are two cultures that influence the thinking of the area on the west coast. In the central to northern parts there is a heavy Asian influence as you go south this changes to a have more Spanish influences. Both cultures have distinctive visual preferences and I think this shows in the products that are designed from these reigns.

This is of course is a very sort statement to explain something very complicated and very opinion based. Please read this as just my observations and nothing more.

Overall, there seems to be an general US design style or language, but when looked at within specific industries, the differences become a lot more noticeable. Architecture in the northwest is very different that in the southeast. In the northwest there is a lot of currogated aluminum and exposed wood, versus stucco and stainless steel in other parts of the country. But even that difference is not an east vs west thing, but more of an environmental dictation. Washington versus California, for example. Both on the same coast, but have very different styles.

Fashion trends seem to differ drastically as well. Even within markets there are differences. Out here where I’m at in the mountain west there are differences in consumer taste of motorsports apparel (snowmobile and motorcycle). Riders in the midwest prefer a different aesthetic than riders out here.

Also, I think the transitory nature of the design profession within the US blurs the lines between East and West. I would be interested to know how many designers relocate from one coast to another after graduating from school and how much impact that has on the design style of a specific design agency. Or to know how many professors on the east coast transferred from the west coast. Or if it’s just a matter of becoming inspired by your surroundings.

Spending the last 8 years on international travel every few months, I would agree.


That said, one of my pet peeves living abroad is that many non-US like to sum up ‘Americans’ from what they have experienced on their two week trip to Fl or NYC. I’ve lived all over the US, and don’t think I could sum up the average American. I like to think about the differences in BBQ myself…

Strictly design speaking - with internet exposure for new work nowadays, there’s not much in the design community that one coast could see that the other couldn’t…

Come on guys, that’s a cop-out. Of course the USA is going to be more similar internally, than to the rest of the world.

An example: People where I live argue about East-side (Bellevue, Redmond) and West-Side (Seattle, Fremont, U-District) differences like they are concrete things. There are entire magazines devoted to the difference (425 vs. Seattle Mag). These two areas are separated by a floating bridge and 10 minutes of driving.

I like how the German film director Werner Herzog explains it - to paraphrase, he thought the center of American culture was Los Angeles, and that the East Coast cities were still “trying” to be European. It was in LA that the true nature of the American identity reaches its peak - or nadir - or ultimate expression.

So, in response to the OP characterization, one could say that W Coast stuff will be more ‘visionary’ while the E Coast stuff will have a Puritan rigor, highly defined by engineering and complexity. I wouldn’t say its ‘goofy’ back east though.

Who wants to discuss which is more red, Pantone 186 or Pantone 193?

Point being, of course minutia can be argued, but to make some grand generalization about east and west coast is silly. Especially since any professional will tell you design should reflect individual brand instead of location. Location can effect brand but then see the minutia comment above.

I will be stealing this.