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Mar 12, 2016
How is Design Different Abroad?

On a recent trip to Iceland with my wife, amongst all of the beautiful scenery and attractions, my geeky creative design brain couldn’t help but study the graphic design surrounding us. It got me thinking, how is graphic design different in other countries and why?

In the UK we are a nation of consumers and I think the advertising and branding we are subjected to reflects that. The majority of this content has been created by huge multi-nationals with huge advertising budgets and massive brand recognition. When I’ve been to other European countries in the past it’s apparent that design is different to the UK, but I’ve always seen the continuity in the larger brands that are present. In Iceland there were far fewer of these international recognisable brands around and several small to medium brands that had established themselves on the sparsely populated island (for example, shops, coffee outlets, tourism companies). I started thinking about these brands and their design identity and how they had a different feel about them. The designs of their logos and advertisements felt foreign to me (despite being written in English!) Why was that? Perhaps because the way of life is slightly different? Or the consumer habits are different to that in the UK? Or perhaps it’s none of these reasons, perhaps it’s just because they were brands I wasn’t aware of before?

Of course there were still plenty of brands around that I did know, the obvious ‘Coca-Cola’ and ‘Pepsi’ for example, along with many other food and drink brands. It was their presence however that got me thinking, that a recognisable brand gives you a sense of comforting familiarity – a thought that I wouldn’t have had if I’d seen any of these logos at home. In fact I probably wouldn’t have even acknowledged that I’d seen them! But when abroad, and surrounded by unknown brands, these logos become a sense of realisation that your not that far from home! (that we all have this connection?)

My conclusion to how design was different in Iceland (Reykjavik) was that consumerism plays a smaller part in their design culture. Despite the place feeling like a mix between the colder areas of North America and some European cities, the presentation of broad design and consumer brands was quite different. Upon exploring different areas of the city however, it was apparent that there was a vibrant art and design scene where craft and photography was particularly popular and good art and design was appreciated by the locals. It’s interesting how we might consider the design industry in countries like Iceland to be behind us in the sense of commercial advertising and branding. Yet, their contemporary art design culture appears to be booming. Perhaps the gap between the two sides of the industry is bigger? Is it better that these things are kept separated?