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The Great Divide

The issue of discussion here often being limited to a (North) American perspective has been coming up a lot lately, and since I’ll be moving from Montréal to The Netherlands soon, I figure its appropriate(and personally gratifying) to bring it up officially.

What are the differences between North American and European design? Or Asian design for that matter. I know this is a huge question, but it seems to me that some, including myself, have been saying “well, this is just an American thing so it doesn’t really matter” or “things are better in Europe” as an easy way out of a disussion.

I’d really like our international contributors to take the opportunity to give some concrete context to the differences, and bring a more global perspective to Speak Up! This isn’t meant as a criticsim in case it sounds this way, I just think its about time this is addressed.

Some of the differences that have been brought up in the past include client relationships, design traditions and trends, the commercial role in design practice, politics and “design heros”. Can we address and expand on these issues?

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PUBLISHED ON Jun.28.2003 BY Kevin
Armin’s comment is:

I knew there was a reason why we created an "international" icon.

Here is my feeling, and this may sound very unAmerican, but it's really not meant as an insult — it's just an observation from an outsider.

Americans like to think they are the best at everything, that their processes are bulletproof and that they are always at the vanguard of everything, and sometimes it's true but not always. I think this is the main reason why we don't see so much European design here, becasue nobody is willing to acknowledge their methods or that they might be doing better — if indeed they are.

I know this doesn't answer any of your questions Kevin, it's just my point of view of why we (look at that, I'm already saying we) rarely look at the other side of the pond because we might feel like shit learning that somebody is doing things better.

On the "design heros" topic I think this applies too, why would we hail and applaud another country's heros when we have our own right here, who drink Starbucks and shop at Wal-Mart?

Again, this is not meant as an insult, I want to make that very clear.

On Jun.28.2003 at 11:31 AM
Arturo’s comment is:

this is the main reason why we don't see so much European design here

Don't mention Brazil, Argentina, Poland or Iran they are doing some impressive work over there, Mmmm and of course Mexico ;) one of the problems is the lack of web pressence there... oops I mean "here"

So, for a mexican or polish designer it�s easier to know CSA Design, Sandstrom or Second Story than the guys on his own country.

On Jun.28.2003 at 03:02 PM
Matt’s comment is:

Its all about culture. Design is a reflection of our culture or vice versa...however thats another discussion. But either way, they are both related. What we value is reflecetd in the way we make things.

Comparing design characteristics of different countries is almost like comparing cultures. European countries value the arts significantly more than the states. I think this crosses over into design as well, being a creative field 'n all. Sometimes I wish I lived over there. My dream to open a gallery would probably be easier.

But in other countries, they're just designing for different markets. These markets may essentially be the same economically, but are very different in what is valued and wanted. I read a little article in a magazine recently (I forget which one) about a commercial Honda released in England...you may have all see the one, the long chain reaction thingamajig. I think Weiden + Kennedy did it. But anyway...they wont release it on television here because Americans essentially aren't "smart" enough to appreciate it. Just goes to show.

So its not like europeans, or mexicans, or anyone else is doing anything better, its just different.

On Jun.28.2003 at 04:40 PM
Arturo’s comment is:

So its not like europeans, or mexicans, or anyone else is doing anything better, its just different absolutlely right! very well put Matt.

About that Honda ad , indeed it�s a very impressive piece of work from W+D

On Jun.28.2003 at 05:07 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

Matt>>I'm not a spokesperson for w&k, but I believe the reason why Honda isn't using the commercial yet in n.america is that you can only purchase the model shown in the u.k. As a brand extension of Honda, it would be viable if it was formated as a 30 or 60 sec version. I'd be surprised if there wasn't an "American" version soon.

On Jun.28.2003 at 05:12 PM
Arturo’s comment is:

indeed it�s a very impressive piece of work from W+D

Ooops W+K indeed ;)

On Jun.28.2003 at 05:16 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>they wont release it on television here because Americans essentially aren't "smart" enough to appreciate it. Just goes to show.

Not to get picky about this, but I think they don't show it in the US because the car is not for sale here. I don't know about not being smart enough but the attention span (or lack thereof) is something to consider. And not to get off topic, but the Honda ad is nothing compared to The way things go, 30 minutes of chain reaction insanity.

On Jun.28.2003 at 05:21 PM
Matt’s comment is:

I remember now, it was in Newsweek. Just regurgitating what the article said. Mayhaps I made a mistake.

On Jun.28.2003 at 05:31 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

I spend a lot of time in Europe and to me, Montréal is like being back home.

I've been to a couple of European trade shows in the past year, one in Paris and one in Madrid. What I've seen is just the immense detail to design. To detail itself. Here in the States, guys come to shows in freaking sneakers and trucker hats, everyone there is dressed in black with the latest shades and such. It's not necessarily better, just different. It's at the consumer level, everything from trash cans to espresso machines are beautiful. You don't have to search it out as you do here. Like Mike said, it's culture. Look at Target and Rashid, not to mention Starck are beginning to infiltrate America's mainstream consumer markets.

I find design is more appreciated in Europe, it's looked at as more of an art, a real necessity. Here in the states, you loose jobs because the potential client's next door neighbor's son just got a Gateway with Corel apps and the latest clip art catalog. Someone talked about this difference in an earlier thread. Design is tradition in Europe. My mother's family is still setting type with lead - not InDesign.

I mean considering the recent 'Who's Making Waves" thread, look at the history of design in Europe. If the guys form the Bauhaus (forgive me design gods for not remembering their names) didn't come to Chicago and Connecticut, would American design be where it is today?

In terms of client relationships, I sell a PDF workflow and color proofing system that was developed in Switzerland. When I ask designers there if they care that an ink-jet cannot output Pantone colors properly they look at me like I'm crazy. I ask if the clients get pissed if their green in the comp isn't their specific green and they say no. The client knows it will be right come production. At the studios I've worked at, in NYC specifically, that would never fly! If you can't produce, there is someone else that can.

I applied http://www.bdwhs.com" target="_blank"> here and here a while back and to me the sites don't look really "European" to me. They could have be for firms here, no?

On Jun.28.2003 at 09:29 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Good topic, but complicated answers.

First of all, design is inconsistent across Europe. London, Paris, Milan, Prague, Amsterdam, and Barcelona are as different as Montreal, Dallas, and Mexico City. There might be a shared appreciation of design, but the cultural difference are vast, and thus, the design differs from country to country.

Secondly, there are differences in maturity between fashion design, industrial design, graphic design, and interactive design. Fashion and industrial design in France, Italy, and Germany are unrivaled. But graphic design in those countries can be as shitty, if not more shitty than stuff here in the States. The design umbrella does not cover all that is European. Now the Dutch and the Swiss may kick ass in graphic design, but have you seen some of the shit on billboards and magazines in Paris? And web use (and design) in Europe is years behind the US -- partly because no one wanted to dig up Paris and Prague to lay down fiber optic cables. As a result, that's why wireless technology is so advanced in Europe.

You also alluded to the "design tradition" in Europe vs us rednecks in the US. I know that tradition goes a long way for most professions. But it's not always guarantee that it's better for the profession. Our American priorities may be out of whack, but the culture here still drives many things internationally, including graphic design. And nowadays, tradition is rarely celebrated in our profession -- it's the now and next. I think you're going to be surprised at how entrenched American culture and influence is abroad. Even as Europeans hate us, they emulate our graphic design process and thinking in minor and major ways.

You can look at this question as evaluating graphic design as a pure academic discipline. But you can also examine graphic design as a business, in which case, there's very little difference operationally between Pentagram SF and Pentagram London. And you can evaluate graphic design by its creative, cultural impact between continents. The problem is, cultural differences arise from political, social, and economic differences too. And in large part, much of Europe is in the same categories as the US. Holland is not a third-world country, know what I mean?

So anyway, not quite sure where I'm going, but I'll stop cause I have a mountain of work to attend to...so Ci�o!

On Jun.30.2003 at 12:19 PM
jonathan’s comment is:

>the Honda ad is nothing compared to The way things go, 30 minutes of chain reaction insanity.

I heard the people who did 'The way things go' are suing the people that did the Honda ad. I can't say I blame them..

On Jul.01.2003 at 11:51 AM
armin’s comment is:

Another stark example is the design publications:

- Europe has Eye

- America has HOW, Print, ID, Step, Dynamic Graphics — which all put together don't get even close to the level of Eye. Maybe they beat Eye in the number of 100lb paper promos.

Now, I'm not saying that American magazines suck, because I enjoy looking at them. Exactly, looking, I rarely look forward to reading them, maybe Step and Print. HOW is good for the subway rides. Eye on the other hand requires a good cup of coffee and undivided attention.

On Jul.01.2003 at 02:03 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> the Honda ad is nothing compared to The way things go, 30 minutes of chain reaction insanity.

Read an online article that the Honda Ad took more than 600 takes. I believe it. It's all one continuous shot.

As to the makers, I believe that Fischli and/or Weiss (the filmmakers of Way) were consulted for the filming of the ad. Many of the Goldberg conventions are the same. They still might be suing, but it's probably for a different reason than we'd assumed.

I remember being shown the short when it came out in college back in the late 80s. It's still awesome. It's worth checking out your local video store.

> Europe has Eye

but dude, we have Martha Stewart Living. Nuff said.

On Jul.01.2003 at 03:49 PM
graham’s comment is:


>> Europe has Eye

>but dude, we have Martha Stewart Living. Nuff said.

spot on.

On Jul.02.2003 at 04:24 AM