Visual Design in Cross-Cultural Communication

By Julianna Jones.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The global community is at our doorsteps. For years this has been forecast and it is now reality. The pervasiveness of technology and the Internet has made communication an immediate, far-reaching phenomenon and the need for cross-cultural awareness is paramount, no more so than in the design community. Visual design is part of our daily lives—through the lens of art, architecture, graphic design, fashion, urban planning, and a multitude of visual media, the viewer/user/consumer can “read” a message of national pride, social justice, cultural history, or simply reflect upon pure aesthetics. Conducting business with other countries is de rigueur; the need for understanding cultural differences of communication, tradition, and sensibilities has become essential. In my paper, “Visual Design in Cross-Cultural Communication,” I emphasize the necessity for incorporating cultural awareness in the preliminary research stages of visual design in all international corporate, academic, or business interactions. When language inhibits verbal communication and comprehension, visual design in cross-cultural communication becomes a powerful tool.

Once the barrier of trust has been violated, relationships are not easily repaired. By understanding and respecting cultural nuances, we go a long way toward fostering a style of communication that transcends non-verbal communication. Cultural symbology and iconography is a deeply embedded, multi-faceted aspect of communication. Colors, icons, and symbols used in graphic design, architecture, website design, product branding, and marketing can produce an emotional impact and can have far-reaching effects. A designer or artist may develop an innovative, original product or business image that may represent fidelity and warmth in his/her culture, yet, this same image may generate emotions of anger and adversity in another culture. What was initiated as an aesthetic judgment may result in a cultural, political, or social insult that irreparably damages a business or professional relationship.

In my paper I give an illustrated presentation that compares and contrasts international symbology and cultural references in visual design and imagery. I suggest ways to bridge the gap of cross-cultural communication and avoid the consequences of design that is culturally insensitive.

Keywords: Cross-Cultural Communication, Visual Design, Global Society, Iconography, Symbology, Art, Corporate Business, Marketing

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.361-376. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 967.978KB).

Julianna Jones

Graduate Student, Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

My interest is in the areas of visual design, cultural studies, and localization and involves a broad array of multidisciplinary research. A common theme in my research is cross-cultural communication and the power that visual design wields with regard to influencing and reaching a common understanding of a shared goal. I have an extensive background in Art History and Visual Design, one of my areas of concentration is semiotics: the symbols, colors, and images that can create an emotional or associative response in the viewer. My research is informed by such inquiries as: What do colors and symbols mean in different cultural contexts? What catches the eye of the participant/consumer/user? What non-textual images resonate with the viewer? What factors do cultural, religious, and socio-environmental predispositions play in visual cognition?

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