Am I a Samoan Designer or am I a Designer that designs Samoan Graphics?

Is it possible to design for another culture utilising similar processes to any other design project?

Below is a list of questions which are pretty much standard fare in the first stage of any design commission.

• Who is the client?

• What are the desired outcomes?

• How should the commission be executed?

• What are the key elements?

• Are there any aesthetic/technical/budgetary stipulations?

• When is the delivery date?

Answers to these and many other basic questions are ascertained by the designer in the first meeting and will usually be enough to begin a draft for the design work.

My next question then is: If the client were from a similar culture or background as myself does that necessarily give me more insight into the project. And given that the questions I outlined earlier are applicable to any design commission and used by designers worldwide – is my heritage alone enough to qualify me for the commission? Surely experience and the quality of my work should be a deciding factor for the client.

“Who is the client?”  The answer to this question goes further than the perfunctory titles or business names that can be given on any auto-fill form. It should be an intrinsic understanding of who and what the client is about. Cultural heritage and knowledge similarities can allow us to skip the sometimes awkward questioning around cultural practices, language or protocols. When working with cultures who have little to know understanding of  the role of the designer the first goal should be to make them feel as comfortable as possible to opening up to discussing what they need which in turn will lead to a closer understanding of the project for both parties. Cultural familiarity can only be beneficial to the project.

The quality of the designers work should definitely be a major contributing factor for the client, irregardless of culture. But educating a client from a culture with no commercial design history, about the pitfalls of employing a designer on the basis of culture alone is going to be no mean feat.

Which brings me to another observation in culturally specific design – the family friend/colleague/little sister /uncle/neighbor with a  computer and a copy of Microsoft word, type of designer. It’s a phenomenon with no cultural bias but in my experience more prevalent where there isn’t that sense of importance in graphic design or knowledge of how it can benefit a business. I understand that budgetary constraints plays a huge part in the decision but choosing a designer based on culture can also lead to over-quoting by more unscrupulous characters that have no business designing in the first place.

Sad to say it but I am guessing the majority of indigenous graphic design work is being created by the receptionist in cash strapped companies or a trade qualified printer who is offering two for the price of one services, but not by a graphic designer, indigenous or otherwise.  Which doesn’t bode well for the advancement of the design cause for indigenous audiences.

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