Introduction to Cultures and Values in Design



Ethics & Values

Design Phase:

Values Theory






This teaching activity introduces students to value systems different from the Western value system, so that they can describe each value system and where it comes from and characterise each value system according to how it differs from the value system of the West. Finally, students work with combining different value systems as a way of identifying themselves with different value systems.


In the books The Patterning Instinct (Lent, 2017) and The Geography of Thought (Nisbett, 2003) the authors argue that humans will not be able to solve today’s environmental problems if they do not combine human knowledge systems from the West, the East and indigenous cultures. The different knowledge systems or “ways of seeing” present very different ways of understanding values and virtues.

Contemporary designers and engineers are educated in university institutions that build on scientific traditions that mainly come out of the Western knowledge systems. Thus, it is important to look beyond the Western knowledge systems and the values that they represent and look into other cultures’ value systems.

This teaching activity introduces students to alternative value systems as they are covered in Lent (2017), Nisbett (2003), Ndubuisi (2017) and Somé (1999) through a lecture. Through this lecture, students get an introduction to a broader perspective on values than the one offered by Western cultures. Students become aware of how they might look into value systems alternative to the one offered by Western cultures.

The lecture is followed by a seminar where students discuss the differences between the value systems that they are introduced to. The students end with producing a combined list of values offered by the West and alternative value systems, and some research questions that open up for further research on values in other cultures.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • describe different value systems and their related perspectives on values,
  • characterise each value system in relation to Western value systems,
  • combine values from the Western value systems with values from other value systems found in Eastern cultures and indigineous cultures.


  • Prepare slides that present different cultures’ ways of seeing/different world views, and their corresponding value systems. This can be done through visuals and other examples of how some of these values are manifested in the different cultures mentioned.
  • The slides provided are based on Lent (2017), Nisbett (2003), and Ndubuisi (2017) and can be complemented with additional knowledge and perspectives on Western value systems and alternative value systems.
  • Share the worksheet in a digital format, so that students can fill them in and share with the class.


  1. Arrange settings for discussions after the lecture.
  2. Give the lecture and present the slides with the alternative value systems and different perspectives on values to the class.
  3. When students have made some personal notes about the values presented in the slides, the students should be divided into groups of four students. They are asked to work as a group on the worksheet provided or the Miro board that resembles the worksheet where they collect all their values and arguments for why they or others resonate with this value. While they do this collection of values, they present the values they have chosen to each other and discuss why they have chosen them. This might take another 20 minutes. The students are also welcome to look into other cultures on their own if they have experienced that certain values are significant.
  4. Using the worksheet, support the students in finding ways in which each value word is manifested in the cultural traditions that they come from.
  5. Support the students in formulating research questions that allow them to make further investigations into literature that describes alternative value systems.
  6. Collect the worksheets and make them available to the class, so that students can review each other’s worksheets. The content of these worksheets can later be used if students would like to combine and incorporate different value systems in their future designs of products, systems or services.


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 use their knowledge to co-create a round robin chart (formative assessment) with open-ended questions. Ask them to use the alternative value systems and focus questions around phenomena seen from different historical and cultural perspectives as well as the implications this might have for design practice.

Assess students' learning by asking them to use their knowledge about different value systems related to a case study (summative assessment) that addresses one of the cultures introduced in the lecture. Ask them to highlight the difference in value systems when compared to the Western value systems and focus on describing how their design works (or should be adapted) if it was to be implemented in a different culture.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • describing the value systems, where they come from and their perspectives on values,
  • characterising the value systems with a focus on how they differ from the value systems of the west,
  • combining different value systems as a way for them to identify as values-led designers in relation to different value systems.



Heike Winschiers-Theophilus & Nicola J. Bidwell (2013) Toward an Afro- Centric Indigenous HCI Paradigm, International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 29:4, 243-255, http:// 10.1080/10447318.2013.765763

Lent, Jeremy (2017). The patterning instinct: A cultural history of humanity’s search for meaning (First edition). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Ndubuisi, Ani (2017.) Re-empowering Indigenous Principles for Conflict Resolution in Africa: Implications for the African Union. Africology: the Journal of Pan African Studies, 10(9), 15-35.

Nisbett, Richard E. (2003) The Geography of thought – how Asians think differently … and why. New York: Free Press, Simon & Schuster.

Somé, Sobonfu (1999). The spirit of intimacy – ancient African teachings in the ways of relationships. Albany, CA: Berkeley Hills Books.



Suggested Assessment Activities: