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A systematic scoping investigation of cross-cultural visual communication design

posted on 2017-02-14, 00:23 authored by Kelly, Meghan Wendy
Designers are increasingly engaged in cross-cultural visual communication design. To date there has been limited literature to support this area of practice. The literature that is available is diverse and conflicting, drawn from an array of disciplines. Currently positions in this research field can be found through investigations of cultural studies, business and marketing, communication, advertising, psychology and branding studies, including the newly emerging discipline of place branding. Constructing a foundation for making sense of the information forms a considerable part of this research, allowing for the identification of the broad advice in the literature advising designers who work in cross-cultural design practice. This thesis will provide a guiding framework to analyse the information gathered and forms a scoping analysis of the issues associated with the expanding area of design. This document breaks down the considerations specific to cross-cultural visual communication and through extensive research examines the areas of concern. The complexity of the investigation has been framed using a structure of three sections: the transmitter, the signal and the receiver. Within this architecture, three aspects in particular have emerged from the analysis: firstly, the issues associated with the origin of the designers when it is different from the culture of the recipient; secondly, the impact the presence of stereotypes in the signal have on the reception of the design; and finally, the impact of the recipient on the acceptance of the design in cross-cultural visual communication based on the aesthetic qualities of the design and its success in communicating. In order to further explore this emergent field, this thesis will include in the investigation an analysis of industry practice in a parallel field, place branding. Cross-cultural design demands, by virtue of its practice to design across countries, more detailed attention to the recipient. This research will argue that place branding provides important information on the changing dynamics of message reception and the problems associated with multiple recipients. Important considerations include issues of identity creation, power struggles in representation and the difficulties in constituting a coherent and acceptable visual identity for a culture in a globalized context. Clarification of these issues will be provided using the results of an extensive international cross-cultural design research project conducted internationally with participants from nine universities. In this research I test the discoveries of the literature review and identify important considerations specific to cross-cultural visual communication design with each area of the basic communication process; transmitter, signal and recipient. Firstly, in regards to the role of the transmitter, a bias exists in the reception of the design based on the presumed cultural background of the transmitter. In particular, in the design solutions liked or considered successful, the origin of the designer was assumed to be from the same cultural background as the recipient. The origin of the transmitter, and whether they exist inside or outside of the culture of the recipient, is problematic when recipients use this as a means to express their dissatisfaction with the design. Secondly, in regards to the role of the signal, designers resolved the design submissions taking a themed approach and stereotypical imagery, an essential component in the understanding of the design by the recipient, is commonly evident in the design submissions. In the absence of stereotypical imagery, the recipient did not respond favourably to the design. Finally, in regards to the role of the recipient, an emotional connection was required for the recipient to consider the design highly. This was achieved when there was a strong relationship between the success in communication, the presence of stereotypical imagery and a strong aesthetic appeal in the design. Evident was the strong interlinking of each of the three components informed by the dynamic of message reception. The results of this scoping research and the international cross-cultural design research project offer clear guidance for designers through all stages of the communication process providing better understanding of the anticipated response to design solutions in a cross-cultural context. Not only can this framework be applied in professional practice, it identifies, for the first time, a structure to the information that could be used in further studies with a focus on the specific concerns associated with cross-cultural visual communication designers.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jan Bryant

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

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