A World of Design Possibilities

Many of today’s design styles derive from Swiss-style graphic design, now more commonly known today as “modern design.”

The style is recognized for its unique and rather groundbreaking attention to typography. Needless to say, Switzerland’s design culture has taken the world by storm.

Of course, the style has grown beyond the graphic design industry and made its way into web design.

When we web designers search for inspiration, though, we tend to stick to this one culture.

Though a great source of inspiration, let’s look at some graphic design styles from other parts of the world. Perhaps we could incorporate at least subtle elements from those other cultures into our current style.

 

Drawing Inspiration and Lessons from Other Cultures

Finding fresh inspiration can be difficult, but with a bit of persistence and know-how, you should find it. The great thing is that any culture or environment that is foreign to you will probably elicit some strong emotion or fascination in you. In observing a different environment, things stick out at us, and we find beauty in certain things in a way that a person who lives there might not.

Because as people carry on day to day, they start to ignore our surroundings. Exploring a different environment helps us notice the little things again. Inspiration should come quite naturally in this situation.

Inspiration is one thing, though; knowing how to give it expression in a design is another. But just like any form of art, an environment and its elements have their own shapes, textures, colors, sizes, etc. Look at natural elements, the details and the bigger picture.

Covering every culture’s style would be impossible, so let’s look broadly at the continents and maybe zero in on certain sub-cultures of interest.

 

Europe

Because we have just referred to the Swiss style, let’s begin with Switzerland’s continent, Europe. Europe has always had innovative design, some countries more than others. And advances in technology have brought huge advances in design.

Much of what we see in European graphic design after 1950 is, again, Swiss-style: emphasis on typography, clean lines, legibility and new color palettes. Overall, we find much more simplicity, too.

Below is a vintage Swiss album cover (but still post-1950).

Swiss Album Cover

Many designers follow this style closely to achieve a vintage look, while others take lessons from its structural balance. An article over on Smashing Magazine, “Lessons from Swiss Style Graphic Design,” discusses just how this modern style reflects in web design, with many great examples of both.

 

Robust Germany

We did say we would look beyond Switzerland, didn’t we? So, let’s move over to Germany, whose graphic design style many of the design principles of its neighbor.

Again, we find the heavy focus on typography. By contrast, though, whereas Switzerland tends toward clean sans-serif fonts, Germany showcases its own traditional fonts:

German Poster

The above is the top half of a German poster advertising the Klingspor Museum in Offenbach. German print and fonts have been around for centuries, and now in digital media they are being used to highlight the country’s history and celebrate its typographic style.

 

Romantic Italy

Italy has similar design principles to those of Germany but a much more artsy, informal feel.

Italian Poster

The above poster is from Milano (1969), promoting an advertising agency. One notices much more “freedom” in Italian graphic design. Both abstraction and softer shapes seem to have a stronger presence.

 

The Rest of Europe

Overall, European graphic design is becoming more uniform. And yet each country has its own history of art, culture and, thus, design style.

We focused on Germany and Italy to show how geographically close countries can have such distinct styles.

If you’re looking for new inspiration, Europe has much to offer. Look at Europe’s historical art, or focus on a particular period of a particular country.

 

Asia

As on all the other continents, every country, cultural group and religion has its own art forms and history. The graphic design style often reflects this history, and someone who is not a part of one of these cultures could benefit a lot from incorporating some of the design principles into their own work.

Below is a website inspired by an Asian culture, China to be specific. Notice how the simple large background creates most of the effect. The natural textures in the rest of the design complements this theme.

Chinese Website

The above design is effective because it reinforces the purpose of the website. Let’s turn to a couple of more cultures for inspiration. The lessons we learn can be applied to similar cultures as well.

 

Japan

More than others, Asia’s main cultures seem to incorporate a more historical sensibility into their modern graphic design. Japan in particular is renowned for mixing historical culture and modernism quite well, whether for graphic design, Web design, architecture or other structural designs.

A great example of this is how cities in Japan seamlessly integrate innovative and traditional architecture and use traditional architecture to inspire shapes, textures and structures into modern design.

Modern Architecture
Traditional Architecture

The two images above show how Japan can be both innovative and traditional, and they’re also a lesson in art. We can draw inspiration from the design elements in both, and we can learn to mix different eras and styles of art for effect.

This is also evident on the Japanese art scene. Japanese art seems to swing between two extremes: traditional and modern. Sometimes, though, those extremes are harmonized. Below are a few pieces that show just this.

Japanese Graffiti
Japanese Modern Art
Japanese Abstract
Classic Japanese Art

And in the graphic design, we see a familiar pattern:

Japanese Graphic Design
Japanese Graphic Design
Japanese Graphic Design

 

India

India’s push into modernism has been relatively recent. But again, its graphic and Web design often reflects the country’s traditional art forms and can be a beautiful source of inspiration.

India is particularly known for its intricate patterns. Below are just a few examples:

Indian Pattern
Indian Pattern
Indian Pattern

 

Australia

Much of Australia is a vast outback: a landscape that is unique to the continent. It also offers great beauty in its coral reefs and underwater life. A strong theme of nature appears in Australia’s art and design.

The Outback Steakhouse restaurant (in the US) promotes “authentic” Australian food, and its website reinforces this image: simple use of a culturally appropriate texture in the background, and natural colors.

Outback Steakhouse

The above website subtly integrates a natural theme, but one can get just as much inspiration from the culture, both modern and traditional. Despite being such a small continent, Australia offers a lot of great design.

Large Cities
The Outback

 

Africa

Such a large continent; such a wide array of art. Perhaps, some of us think of African art as being the opposite of modernism, more of a step back into traditional art and a celebration of nature.

 

Traditional Africa

African art has an incredibly long, and rather distinguished, history. Taking inspiration from it for graphic and web design is fairly easy.

African Art

Because African art uses natural elements so heavily, texture would have to play a strong part in any design based on it. Again, as always, look at shapes and patterns, too.

Below is a great example of a web design. It mixes both cultural and natural elements perfectly to create a clean, beautiful and effective design.

Although this organization is based in Africa itself, there is no reason groups in other parts of the world could not use similar elements in their websites. The design style could be appropriate for many types of websites and designs.

African Inspired Website

 

Wildlife

The African landscape has unique wildlife that can be found nowhere else on earth, except in captivity. Traditional African art features the people’s unique perspective of the wildlife.

Both the wildlife itself and the cultural art based on it are worthy of attention.

Giraffe

 

Egypt

We’ve included Egypt here specifically for its ancient art. From pyramids and other majestic sculptures to the rock art, ancient Egypt has much to offer the modern web designer.

Ancient Egyptian Art

Again, design can be found in a culture’s art and monuments, as well as from the textures, shapes and colors of the natural environment.

Egyptian Landscape

 

South America

Like Africa, South America has a large native population, and the design style reflects this. But South America has its own distinct perspective on nature and offers as much as inspiration as the art in Africa.

Ancient South American Art

The above sculpture is a traditional one from the area. One could perhaps draw some parallels between this style and Africa’s, but differences are obvious: rich colors and materials and unique shapes.

It reflects the South American environment itself: dense jungles, wet swamps and tropical wildlife. Much of Africa is dry desert, which is why the art has its brown hues and rocky textures.

Notice the difference in shape, too, probably more a cultural than environmental factor. In general, native African art is “harder” and more rigid, while native art from South America has more curves.

South America is, of course, famous for its tropical jungles, and this will also figure in design styles influenced by the region. Other features might include rivers and swamps: South America is also home to the great Amazon river.

Taking this beautiful environment as his inspiration, the designer below chose a jungle theme for his web design.

Jungle Theme Website

 

North America

Much of North American design is rooted in modernism, but still quite a bit of non-modernist tradition and culture exerts influence on graphic designers in this area.

As in Europe and most modernized Asian countries such as Japan, the Swiss style is popular here. But dig deeper and you’ll find design styles specific to this continent’s culture.

The south-western United States, for example, is known for its wild cowboy days. Most of us have heard of Outlaw Design Blog, and its design mixes texture, objects and landscape to perfectly capture this culture and its appeal.

Outlaw Design Blog

Also worthy of attention is the art of the Native Americans, who once dominated the land. The website below does not exactly reflect Native American art, but it borrows the colors and textures to good effect. It also presents a typical North American landscape, setting the tone.

Native American

Being from the Midwest myself, I just had to include a farm and country design to the mix. The smart web design below features a Midwestern landscape that can be found throughout parts of the US and Canada.

Native American

Keep in mind, this continent stretches from the equator all the way up to the frozen arctic. The particular cultures reflect these various regions, and any of your design elements should, too.

The continent has more design styles than could be covered here, such as the northern Canadian arctic, Mexico, and Central America.

 

Wrapping Up

This post is almost anthropological, but that can be good for us designers looking for fresh inspiration and lessons. Webdesigner Depot is known for exploring alternative sources of art for our benefit. Exploring different cultures is a great way to do this.

There still remains, though, the general feeling that the Swiss style is the most modern, with everything else being less “formal.” You could stick broadly to the Swiss style, maintaining a simple and modern look, but incorporate subtle textures, colors or decorative elements from other cultures.

However far you decide to go, incorporating elements from different cultures in your design will likely be a change for the better. And when you have the whole world at your fingertips, the possibilities are endless.


Written exclusively for WDD by Kayla Knight.

Do you draw inspiration from other cultures? How has this impacted your design?


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  • http://designi1.com designi1

    You need culture to design, designer must be high cultural person… really useful article!!

  • http://milos.milikic.info Milos Milikic

    Very very nice article!!!

  • http://zdesignstudios.com JP

    Just when you thought you have seen everything.

  • http://www.mlangella.com Manuela

    Very interesting!! Thank you!!

  • http://www.web4half.com/ Jane……I LOVE WEB DESIGN….

    Great Collection of website listing.

    “endlallenvtrazo” Its look very organic design.

    I have Bookmarked, future reference.

    thanks a lot .!

  • http://www.lendlallenvtrazo.com/ Lendl

    Thanks for including my website design in this awesome list!!! :) I’m from the Philippines :)

  • Rooc

    Nice article, but it’s a pity that you haven’t mention russian contribution to modern design.

  • Peter Hughes

    You’ve tackled an interesting subject, and one that many designers would do well to investigate, but personally I don’t think you’ve explored it anywhere nearly deep enough. I really don’t understand your reasoning behind picking the website examples that you did. Especially for China, don’t you think that you should have chosen a website actually designed for a Chinese audience? Simply because it has certain images and iconography that are centered around rather cliched themes does not make it indicative of Chinese design. The same goes for Australia, Africa and South America – none of those websites stand out as shining examples of different design principles being applied. For an article titled “A world of design possibilities”, it’s disappointingly same-y. You could also have picked design element from different cultures that’s slightly more modern – Ancient Egyptian stone carvings have been out of fashion in that country for nearly three thousand years.

    I don’t wish to be so critical, but I really think you could have treated this subject far better.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

      The article is not meant to cover the culture of every country, just an intro to the possibilities of design from other parts of the world. It’s meant to engage you to look at these possibilities.

      Thanks.

    • http://plennevaux.be/alexandre/ Alexandre Plennevaux

      To tell the truth i share Peter’s disappointment: you seem to reduce the influence of a country ‘s culture to a country practice of web design to the use of a few icons (how about a tiger skin underwear for Africa, a belgian waffle for Belgium,…). It’s basically like saying US Web design is about putting american flags, donuts and Chevrolets on a web page.
      Your point that this is meant to be inspirational does not comes through. Nice try, though. But i suggest you actually get foreign designers opinion about webdesign instead of putting your words in their mouth °-¨

    • Bert

      I agree with Peter: cultural differences are a very interesting subject but this “study” just explores some (cliché) themes for graphic design. It does not delve into the wonderful world of actual cultural preferences in design. For example, should you mainly present facts and data or should you design introduce the people behind your website more thoroughly. These questions are not solved by introducing a background picture of China.
      I encourage webdesigners to start reading about cross-cultural communication and the work of Geert Hofstede to understand better what I am getting at.

    • http://www.doublejdesign.co.uk/ Jack

      Agreed! Most of the Japanes elements are originally from China. Actually, in modern designs, Chinese elements are to me the most useful or the most used elements.

    • http://www.intwllwctdesign.co.uk Wagner Matos

      Nice idea, but very poorly executed. Very disappointing. No depth and no real examples. The “South American” website is actually from a Philippine guy.

  • http://www.yogapuntadeleste.com Alvaro Hernandorena

    liked the mandala like image from india.

  • palsen

    Hey! :)
    Are you sure about that Germany-thing?

  • http://99designs.com Jason Aiken

    Walter,

    Really Cool Post!

    Cheers,
    Jason

  • http://www.webgraphicdesigner.me Jennifer

    This article is actually one of the reasons why I lived in Singapore for 10 years. Being so close to so many different cultures was inspiring as a designer. Thanks for the reminder!

  • http://sexidesign.com Melody

    I looove asian architecture, I’m totally living in a 16th century japanese style country home when i can afford it :)

    @peter, it specifically says that they’re payin homage to “ancient” egyptian art… The post talks about traditionalism and modernism.

  • http://www.kaplang.com/blog Kaplang

    really nice article :)

  • http://www.neurovision.com.au Brad

    Not sure some of those I’d call ‘typical’ but interesting topic and a visually stimulating post all the same.

    Nice work guys,
    Brad.

  • http://desaindigital.com jeprie

    real informative, india’s great.

  • http://free-textures.net Teejay

    You can never run out of web design inspirations. There could even be inspirations in your own room right now.

  • Rod

    Wow, way to stereotype every culture and select only sites that reflect them for a US audience. Australia may be the smallest continent in land size, but we’re one of the biggest countries and the majority of Australians don’t hang around in the outback – we live in cities and suburbs like the rest of you.

    This article pissed me off… mate!

  • http://www.denbagus.net denbagus

    that is very amazing information… open my mind about many great design . thank you

  • http://www.studioweber.com Alex Flueras

    Excellent article, great idea!! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.anythinggraphic.net Kevin

    This is an intense post. Good job! Interesting subject…

  • http://www.moinid.com Creative ideas

    Walter, You made my day. Thanks!

  • lordzen

    I do not see many designs using black letters around here in germany

    • palsen

      … me, too … how did you come to that point of view, Kayla?!?

  • http://www.discountwebdesigner.com louisville website designer

    Lovely! thanks for the share. I really enjoyed your post!

  • http://www.liquidskydesign.org/ Claudia

    Never enjoyed a post like this; the accuracy of all the information is pretty interesting, the work behind is awesome and I do thank you for this great post!

  • http://www.bwired.com.au Steve Martin

    Yep that’s an interesting post with very creative and different culture’s designs. Really awesome stuff! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • http://www.nopun.com Noel Wiggins

    Indeed looking into other cultures for inspiration can really help in coming up with a unique direction for your design. I was fortunate enough to go to art school in manhattan where I had access to every newspaper from practically every country and we would make collages out of the papers, the results where pretty cool. being that the compositions where made up from the “textures” the text would form, and I wasn’t distracted with “reading” the content.

    The same can be true for looking at a foreign website for design insirada you can focus on the elements that make the design work without being distracted by the content…

    Thanks and Regards

    Noel

  • http://parlierdesign.com bpdeeziner

    Interesting and thoughtful article. Being the detailed person that I am, I’d like to point out the “Cowboy” style you refer to in the North American section would be more South Western USA, not South Eastern.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

      Fixed, thanks…

  • http://www.k-win.fr kevin

    Totalle agree with Peter and Rod, i’m from europe but do live and work as a webdesigner in Brazil for more than a year and dude, it’s way too stereotypical!

    “In general, native African art is “harder” and more rigid, while native art from South America has more curves.”

    Serioulsy…

  • http://www.marklukas.de Mark

    Great article! Thanks!

    But german designer usually use more cleaner typefaces, like Univers, DIN, Frutiger, Rotis etc. All the swiss stuff. ;-)

  • Jeesh

    “The south-eastern United States, for example, is known for its wild cowboy days.”

    Really? I think that should read “south-western”.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

      Got it, fixed… thanks…

  • Aarón

    Lendl Allen’s site has great design but the Philippines are not in South America.

  • http://www.empfehlenswert-wien.at wien

    great article, thanks

  • http://ronrockt.wordpress.com Ron

    Nice idea, but I don´t like this stereotyping. Maybe you should look deeper into this subject, this post is just scratching on the surface.

    As already said above by others, I don´t see designs with that kind of typo that often here in Germany (and this example does in no way represent german design) …

  • http://www.aledesign.it aledesign.it

    Only by the title this is an important and nice article. More things are so real and interesting, thanks for this post.

  • http://www.zoombits.co.uk valentines day gift ideas

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful and outstanding world designs. You would have definitely have to collect them from many sources.

  • rené

    Why are the American “south-eastern-south-west” parts corrected and the German things not? Really, we do not use fonts like the one that’s shown very often. It’s a wrong view you got about German Design and you spread it …

  • Julian

    I must agree with some of the comments. This article feeds on and presents only stereotypes. It is a nice idea and might be a good starting point for some people to explore other, interesting and maybe exotic styles to use for their own design. But honestly, this article is not that deep. I get the impression you did need a new article and had that unfinished one lying around.
    Europe is not that simple and the description of Germany could not have been more cliché. Also the rest of the countries. Maybe this is the view Americans have of the rest of the world, but let me tell you, this is not what is going on in these countries.

    I really like the articles of this blog, but with this one you really haven’t done your homework.
    Such a shame, this could have been a very good article.

  • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

    Thanks for the feedback everyone, I’ll take it into consideration for future articles.