Welcome to the microsite to the intercultural design workshop with the topic „Urban Signs and Symbols" between the Ulm University of Applied Sciences and the Indonesia Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta. This site gives you a good overview of the workshop concept and the excursion to Indonesia, Yogyakarta.
Signs and Symbols are only understandable in their own cultural context. But if we travel to another country, simple signs such as the one for No-Parking can be a challenge since it might look very different from our sign.
Signs and Symbols can be gestures, sounds, traffic signs, logos, architecture, clothing, tattoos and body language.
“Aliquid stat pro a liquo” (Something stands for something else, quote by Aristotles‘s) explains the substitutional character of metaphors, allegories and symbols in general. As long as the symbol and the usual context in which it appears are well known, the substitution is comprehensible. But what happens when the context varies? Imagine a couple kissing in a public space in a Hollywood movie. What are the bystanders doing? They are applauding. Right? Now, imagine the graphic of a kissing couple in a red outline circle crossed with a thick red line similar as on a prohibition sign. What a different feeling and perception!
The aim of this intercultural design workshop is to show the different perception of urban signs and symbols by my German students and by the Indonesian students in the city Yogyakarta. The Indonesian students know their environment and grew up with it but that is not true for the German students. Their curiosity and fresh perception will cause questions and possible confusion. Some might even have a slight culture shock that involves information overload or language barrier in a foreign culture.
This “uncomfortable” state of mind can be powerful and productive because initial impressions are fleeting and the mind is quick to categorize and label. To make this first impression visible to others and also illuminate the decoding process is an interesting design study. In mixed Indonesian-German groups, the students will have all that they need for this assignment: the cultural guides (Indonesian students) and the explorers (German students) in an environment with various sign and symbols which are clear to the guides and not so clear to the explorers.
Especially for design students, it is very meaningful to experience new worlds that have a new quality and a new meaning for them. The renowned philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes pointed out that mass culture doesn't help to clarify meaning: “The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition... always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.” Today in Asia, both modern life and strong tradition still live side by side.
In the conceptional phase of the design work, it is important not only to visualize the perspective of the German students on the signs and symbols in Yogykarta but also to bring equally the perspective of the Indonesian students. Media could be a photo series with overlayed text messages or an 2-D animation or a series of mixed media.
Susanne P. Radtke