Poetic or utilitarian – how culture shapes the product

Culture has an influence on taste, and in order to create successful products for a specific market, it is necessary to look at the people who form it, as well as what they value in their life and their surroundings. We had a talk with Berker Diker, Industrial Designer at Attention, to uncover how culture shapes the design process and the end-product.

The challenges cultural differences bring

As a worldwide product development company, we at Attention have worked with clients from many different corners of the world. One of our on-going projects involves a collaboration with a Chinese client, TP-Link, which has brought many new and exciting challenges for the design team.

TP-Link, who is the leading networking devices and solutions company in China, as well as a big player in the worldwide market, was trying to improve their market presence in Europe.

Since there are many contrasts between Chinese and European taste, TP-Link initiated a collaboration effort with Attention to get insights and expertise on the European market in order to create a product that matched the tastes within the European countries. Berker Diker was appointed Project Manager, and since he is neither Chinese nor Scandinavian, he found it a particularly interesting task:

As a Turkish designer who is involved in numerous projects for Chinese customers, in a Scandinavian design environment, I feel lucky to be in a position where I have the chance to observe so many cultural nuances and see how they add their own flavour to each project journey – and how the learnings from each market can lead to success on another. It is an incredibly interesting position to be in.”

Poetic meets utilitarian

Berker explained that one of the main challenges of the project was to find the perfect balance in the design that could appeal to the broader European market. This was particularly challenging because the European countries in themselves bear so many contrasts in taste. But it was also a great challenge because of the contrast between Scandinavian and Chinese taste:

Scandinavians have a tendency to prefer minimalistic and utilitarian design. In Denmark, for example, there is a greater emphasis on products that are minimal in shape, products that have the same function with less parts, and that are smart in a more obvious way. And they put more emphasis on the natural materials, like wood, copper, aluminum, or even concrete and stone.”

In contrast, the Chinese products are more highlighted: “The Chinese tend to not prefer simple designs and low-key things that are going to blend in. They like things to be the highlight of the room. You could say that their products are more like conversation starters and a greater emphasis is put in the backstory of the design, almost in a poetic way.


TP-links wireless routers designed for the Chinese market (left) and the Scandinavian market (right). The Scandinavian router is discrete and minimalistic, whereas the Chinese router is more expressive with its highlighted features and bright icons.

From contrasts to co-creation

To solve the challenges that the cultural contrasts brought to the project, a thorough understanding of the users was necessary. The multicultural collaboration was of help in this respect, because each party could bring a good basic understanding of their respective cultures to the table, which provided a valuable supplement to the consumer research.

In addition to this, the assignment of a project manager who is from an entirely different culture aided the team in understanding the otherwise subtle aspects of their own cultures. Berker explains how this may be useful in the more general sense: “Anyone living in a foreign country is prone to notice things in the cultural environment that locals might oversee, simply because they have lived in that culture their entire life.” In that sense, cross-cultural collaboration can go from being a challenge to a competitive advantage, and add extra value to the end product.

Attention and TP-Link have now worked together in several multicultural collaborations to uncover the users’ preferences in China, Denmark and North America. You can read much more about the process and designs here and here.

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