Design across Cultures

MediaLAB Amsterdam’s global initiative for collaboration between cities and multidisciplinary multicultural design teams to tackle similar local challenges all over the world, using the undeniable force of cultural differences and similarities as a design strategy. The teams speak a common language: (design) methods. They use this language to share and transfer the design process between teams so that they build upon each other’s research, ideas and insights rather than merely the end-result.

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Speaking the common language of methods

We are living in an idea-generating era, where ideas and innovations are following up on each other in a staggering pace, and even more so: simultaneously on over a thousand different locations.

The solutions that are developed in cities around the world are often very suitable for the local context. However, even though challenges might be very similar between cities, this does not always mean the end-solutions will also work in both contexts. Solutions are often discarded as not being valuable for a particular city or context, which is based on the conclusion that the end-solution is not suitable. Additionally this indicates that all of the research, ideas and insights that were generated in the process are also discarded. Even with the given fact of the similarities in the challenges, the process (and especially, the methods and their resulting insights) could have been the most valuable to share and be inspired by. Therefore, we state: it makes sense to structurally gain insights in the process of solving problems and tackling challenges in cities across the globe by speaking the common language of methods, in order to 1) build upon ideas and insights, 2) learn how design and problem-solving differs across cultures and 3) structure and feed collaborations between (multidisciplinary) teams working on the challenges simultaneously in different contexts.

Design Across Cultures projects

The Design Across Cultures (DxC) program connects cities, industries and multidisciplinary, multicultural design teams around the globe in order to locally solve global issues and improve ‘citizen empowerment’ around the world.

In the past 1,5 years, we have gained experience in running DxC projects with teams in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and in Bangalore (India), both working simultaneously on the same challenge in collaboration with industry partner Cisco (for example on women’s safety in public spaces, and food waste). Recently, we have finished a DxC project in collaboration with Bell Labs, Innovation Studio Fukuoka and Kyushu University on designing the future workspace. In all of these projects, citizen empowerment has been a main focus, especially in relation to the local context of the cities (Amsterdam, Bangalore and Fukuoka).

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City, Industry, University, Lab

Each DxC project has a specific structure, where different stakeholders meet in a temporary or existing ‘lab’. Central is the agenda of the local (city) government, stating the current challenges they face (i.e. flooding, food waste, safety, sustainable energy, etc.). Industry (tech) partners support local governments in facilitating technology to tackle these challenges. Universities provide research capacity and talent. In the DxC ‘lab’, these parties collaborate in student-driven projects, supported with technology from the industry to tackle cities’ most current challenges. Unique to the program is the fact that several teams work simultaneously on the same challenge in different cities and share their work continuously.