Re-designing concepts for different cultures



Technology and Design

Design phase:



Extended Abstract




This teaching activity challenges students to adapt one of their design concepts to a different culture with different values. They do this by evaluating an existing design concept, hypothesizing which new values could apply, designing a new concept and evaluating the new design with people from the other culture. In doing so, students become aware of the complexity of values and the situatedness of values given a certain culture or setting.


Designers are often not aware of the implicit culture-related values they incorporate into their designs. Semantic meaning related to colour, forms, people, relations, etc. can be culturally specific and relate to social norms within a specific culture. Not being aware of these values can lead to embarrassing situations. For example, the translation of a Dutch Dick Bruna children’s book about “Betje Big” (Poppy Pig) to Turkish (Betje Big’in, Dogum Günü) changed the connotation completely, since the pig is considered unclean in Turkey.

We are moving towards a global multicultural world, which is asking designers to be more aware of cultural values and norms. Researchers like Geert Hofstede, a Dutch organisational psychologist renowned in the field of intercultural studies, developed culture and organisation-related frameworks (e.g. Hoftstede et al., 2010). These frameworks provide a starting point, but are not immediately transferable to a design. They do not say, e.g., whether colours and materials have the same connotation all over the world. That might require exploration and engagement with people from this culture during the design process.

This teaching activity supports students in getting an understanding of the role of aesthetics in their designs, regarding the appearance and interaction in relation to different cultural connotations. Through learning about and designing for different cultures than their own and having their designs evaluated by people from another culture, students are sensitised to these often implicit cultural values, and supported to include them more consciously in their design process.

Overall, this activity supports students becoming aware of and more competent in addressing the complexity of values and the situatedness of values given a certain culture or setting.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • hypothesise how a design concept might fit a specific culture,
  • design a concept that is (more) appropriate for a specific culture,
  • evaluate a design concept from a cultural perspective, using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory and interviews with people coming from another culture than their own.


  • Divide students in groups of three.
  • Create a page for every group to log their design journey on an online whiteboard platform (e.g., Miro or Mural).
  • Ask every group to find one participant from another culture living in their country, e.g. an expat, willing to be interviewed. A live face-to-face interview is preferred, but if that is not possible an online interview is also an option.
  • Provide students with information about Hofstede’s theory on culture and organisations (Hofstede et al., 2012) and Schwartz’s theory on basic human values (Schwartz, 2017). When running a course of multiple weeks, you might use the first few weeks to let the students read and discuss the different chapters of Hofstede’s book. If limited in time, the students might access Hofstede's website (Hofstede, n.d) explaining the dimensions, which they can explore before the activity starts. Instruct them to read the papers and discuss the theory before they meet the participant.
  • Ask the group to choose an existing design project, preferably a finished design project from one of the group members. Ask them to write a short explanation of the concept with a few images from that project, which they can include in their online whiteboard (using e.g. Miro or Mural) to explain the concept to fellow students.
  • Create a presentation/hand-out explaining the purpose of the activity, showing examples and instructions explaining the steps to take. See the provided slides for inspiration.


The teaching activity consists of five steps.

Step 1:

  • A kick-off meeting explaining the purpose of the activity, showing examples and giving instructions explaining the steps to take.

Step 2:

  • Students are getting familiar with another culture by reading Hofstede’s analysis of cultures. They can read the book or watch the short videos on the website. Additionally, every group has a 30-60 min interview with a participant from another cultural background, where they will listen to their experiences and anecdotes within their culture.

    Before they meet the participant, they have to prepare the interview. Let them come up with questions regarding (past) cultural experience, both in work and private life. They can ask for stories and anecdotes, but they shouldn’t ask the participant to connect to the theory him- or herself (that is step 3). Moreover, they should not refer to their design concept yet. That will be part of the next interview.

Step 3:

  • Every student group connects the interview of the participant to the theoretical insights regarding this culture, and analyses their selected design project from the perspective of the targeted cultural context. Part of this evaluation is clarifying the mismatch between features of the current design and the new cultural context. Subsequently, students hypothesise which values should apply to the re-design.

Step 4:

  • Every group re-designs their concept from the perspective of the culture of the participant and visualises the design in drawings, animations and/or prototypes. Afterwards, they discuss in an open conversation the design with the participant/expat, exploring in which way it does or does not fit their culture. They use the feedback to adjust the concept and create the final design.

Step 5:

  • Students document the outcome of the different parts on their dedicated page (on the online whiteboard that was prepared). During class all the groups present their results (design and process), including the underlying rationale.

    Fellow students provide feedback on the whiteboard platform during the presentations, and the teacher provides oral feedback.

    After all the presentations and feedback given on the online whiteboard platform, a final discussion may take place in order to discuss the culture-related values of the different designs, the differences between cultures, as well as the experienced differences between Hofstede’s theory and the interviews with the participants.


To assess whether the intended learning outcomes were attained by the teaching activity the following assessment activities can be carried out (in class or after class).


Assess students' learning by making them organise a (online) value-based public exhibition for an international audience (e.g. the expats involved in the interviews) (authentic assessment). Ask them to focus on highlighting how the design was adapted to a different culture with different values as well as the insights and results from the evaluation.

Assess students' learning by asking them to write a self-review of values handled in an activity (formative assessment) focusing on how their understanding of values changed from their own evaluation of an existing design concept to their evaluation of the new design with people from other cultures. Ask students to highlight in the self-review how and why they were sensitised to implicit cultural values, and were supported to include them more consciously in their design process. Frame the self-review through questions such as “What have you learned about cultures and values”, “What role does culture play in design for you/your project?”.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • explaining how values and culture are related,
  • giving examples of how a design concept may be appropriate for a certain culture but not for another,
  • describing how Hofstede’s analysis of cultures can support the design for different cultures,
  • evaluating the design concept from a cultural perspective, using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory and interviews with people coming from another culture than their own.


Hofstede, Geert; Hofstede, Gert Jan; and Minkov, Michael (2010). Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind. Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede (n.d.). Six dimension model of national culture. Retrieved 2021-04-15 from

Schwartz, Shalom H. (2017). The Refined Theory of Basic Values. In Roccas, S. and Sagiv, L. (Eds). Values and behavior: Taking a cross-cultural perspective. Cham: Springer. http://10.1007/978-3-319-56352-7



Suggested Assessment Activities: