The cultural barriers to products

February 2018 | News

Designing universal products that are at the same time customised, that respond to each and every one of their clients, is one of the most difficult challenges that many companies face in their day to day. A vitally important aspect for anyone who has made globalisation one of their greatest allies, something which is essential to know how to manage if you want your work not only to cross borders, but also to work outside of them. What makes the same product succeed in some places but go unnoticed in others, what are the needs of each society, or what is different between one culture and another, are some of the aspects that Actiu has been able to analyse at the meeting ‘The effects of cultural barriers on products’, organised by Roca during the second exhibit of its centenary at the Roca Madrid Gallery and moderated by the National Design Award 2017, Manuel Estrada. An opportunity to discover first-hand the opinion of company professionals specialised in furniture design, gastronomy and the hotel sector, in theory very different in themselves but with a strong shared connection: the influence that culture has on creating and managing their products, and how knowing and adapting to the cultural characteristics of each region is crucial for all of them. 

Roca Madrid Gallery

The effects of cultural barriers on products

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Towards a local globalisation

Ever since globalisation began with the industrial revolution, it has not stopped evolving. The indiscriminate repetition of the same model, developed by many companies until relatively recently, is a process now in extinction, favouring a market that focuses on a combination of the ‘global’ and the ‘local’. The industry standardised quality and bought design closer to a greater number of people, but reduced the individuality associated to a single product, that now aims to be recovered through a more participatory and democratic design. It is not about making tailor-made products, but customising those already made in order to adapt them to each project, culture and work habits, in a process that also means saving a significant amount of time and money.

Cultural barriers as an opportunity

Culture, understood as the set of knowledge, beliefs and behavioural patterns of a social group, is one of the most important factors when developing any product.  “Not all countries understand the same by rituals such as hygiene and the bathroom sector, that are used and interpreted completely differently according to the culture and place”, notes Director of Design and Innovation of Roca Sanitary, Josep Congost. And it is that, as the Director of Marketing and Communications of Taste of America, Enrique Charro Herrera points out, “although weakened by globalisation, cultural barriers continue to exist, and in order for a product to work it is necessary to know both the culture of the country and the target audience very well”. According to Ramón Fernández, Technical Director of Room Mate Hotels “it is essential to be able to see barriers as a disadvantage and turn them into an opportunity, through a process that respects the local culture and does not impose the product, but that adapts it”.

Photography: Room Mate Hotels

Photography: Room Mate Hotels

The social and cultural environment of work

“If society today consumes differently, moves differently and relates differently... then why are work spaces from another era?” highlights the Director of Strategical Communications of Actiu, Soledad Berbegal. A process that, in her opinion, “positively progresses with globalisation, through more and more coherent workspaces, both with the internal hierarchy of their ‘host’ as well as the social relationship models”. Environments converted into the ‘second home’ for many workers, where design is an essential tool when creating well-being, synergy and trust between different cultures, and where many of the ‘universal’ concepts so in vogue in recent years, such as open space, coworking, teleworking, the feeling of belonging, design, ergonomics, technology or flexibility, are now revised depending on each social and cultural environment. This way, many companies have stopped copying themselves to be reinterpreted, combining already existing local models and adapting the ‘universal’ prototypes of spatial organisation and their products to each place. A bi-directional process, in which companies adapt their corporate standards to a local culture which is asked to be receptive to change and innovation.

The internationalisation of the workspace

Years ago, the Dutch social psychologist Gerard Hendrik Hofstede established what factors determine the design of workspaces with his five cultural dimensions. Five criteria –Power distance, Individualism vs Collectivism, Masculinity vs Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance and Long-term Orientation vs Short-term Orientation- that condition and define the way in which each society lives and perceives these environments. Which cultures are more wary of their individuality and which are more open to collaboration and change, what role does hierarchy, control or the feeling of belonging play, what is their tolerance to reduced workspaces and to breaking down barriers between the professional and personal life, or what are the main ways of working in each area, are some of the aspects to take into account when designing workspaces outside of our borders. An internationalisation process in which Actiu has committed to creating specific work teams for each geographical area, made up of natives that know the demands and needs of their culture inside out, and their different norms, often very different within the country. Already established markets, such as the German or French market, that with a strong support for design and online shopping require a completely different strategy to those developed in Poland and Russia, that have now become a paradigm of new workspaces experiencing a moment of growth and significant innovation. Or in ‘more conventional’ markets such as the African market, that rarely incorporates electric solutions, and is reticent to work on projects, continuing to use the traditional purchase method, or the United Arab Emirates market where open space has not yet been implemented. Cultures very different from each other but with the same common desire: to create attractive workspaces that promote well-being and where its workers feel ‘at home’.

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