DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th -13th September 2019

Year: 2019
Editor: Bohemia, Erik; Kovacevic, Ahmed; Buck, Lyndon; Brisco, Ross; Evans, Dorothy; Grierson, Hilary; Ion, William; Whitfield, Robert Ian
Author: van Boeijen, Annemiek (1); Sonneveld, Marieke (1); Hao, Chen (1); Khodadadeh, Yasaman (2)
Series: E&PDE
Institution: 1: Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, The; 2: University of Tehran
Section: Cultural 3
DOI number:
ISBN: 978-1-912254-05-7


In a globalized world, with interconnected societies experiencing a complexity of multicultural subgroups, designers cannot ignore the cultural aspects of their designs, of their way of designing and of themselves as designers. Culture sensitive designers are not only aware of the cultural dimensions of design, they know how to integrate these cultural dimensions into the practice of their designing, while staying in tune with their own cultural beliefs and values. Thereby, cultural sensitivity in designing is not merely about understanding cultural differences, but more important about unfolding cultural dilemma’s and finding the common grounds to build up on. Cultural sensitivity in designing is about building the cultural bridges through design.

Cultural sensitivity is developed through exposure to cultural differences, by working in multi-cultural contexts, and by facing the dilemma’s that are raised within those contexts. In a previous study, insights in how to develop cultural sensitivity were described from a methodological point of view, choosing the teachers perspective. (van Boeijen, Sonneveld & Hao, 2017).

This paper will address the perspective of the design students. How did they experience the design education initiatives that are focused on developing their cultural sensitivity?

The paper will be based on 5 international workshops on cultural sensitivity, 3 in Shanghai (China), 1 in Wuxi (China) and 1 in Kish (Iran). All workshops had the same learning objective and structure. However, the workshops differed in context and in focus: awareness of one’s own culture through self-observation; awareness of subcultures involving participants; company cultures; and awareness of cultural encounters between cultures.

In this study, the students in Iran were asked to reflect on their experiences, not only regarding the learning outcomes (theory, methods, tools, and design approach), but also on the way they interacted with each other (group dynamics), and the way the workshop was organized (structure, education style, timing, topics etc.). Also, we asked the students how the learning experience could be improved.

Preliminary results show that these intercultural workshops have an important impact on the design students’ culture sensitivity. This is not an easy process: students have to get used to each other and to the cultural context they are working in, have to understand their barriers and dilemma’s, their misunderstandings and miscommunications. To achieve that, we identified three important factors that support both the process of finding a common ground and the differences. First, the value of a pressure cooker setting: working in teams for a whole week on just one project. Next, the value of a positive attitude of the workshop facilitators: allowing students to make mistakes and embracing differences and misunderstandings as learning potentials. Third, the value of taking care of social events, surrounding the workshop as much as taking care of the workshop itself.

Keywords: culture sensitivity, design education, intercultural experience, globalisation


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