How Design Helps Create Culture

Design is a symbol

We love to feel included, no one likes to be the outsider. Designers have the opportunity to create symbols that connect people and make them feel a part of something. This isn’t limited to designers, it spans across the entire creative spectrum. The Apple logo is a symbol, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a symbol, a band t-shirt is a symbol, a Starbucks mug is a symbol. They’re all signs and icons communicating something to the people around you.

Symbols represent trust

When you wear your favorite pair of Nike running shoes, and show off your brand new iPhone to your peers, you’re communicating to the world that you trust these brands, and what these brands buy you in this world. You love working on your Macbook in Starbucks not necessarily because you know that Apple has a superior product, but because it says something about who you are, and what you value. You subscribe to the same values that Apple projects.

Trust forms culture

The definition of culture is the set of shared values, goals, attitudes and beliefs within a people group. Culture is what brings people together. Everywhere you go, you witness and are a part of different cultures on a micro and macro level. When you run into a stranger who’s wearing the same alma mater on their shirt as you are, there’s an instant connection, something that you share with that person, you feel like you can trust that person a little more than before. Just like that, culture is formed. It’s two people who have shared values and a shared experience, and that symbol, along with the trust that brand has built, opened a door of connection. 

Not all brands affect culture in significant ways, but great ones do, and design helps make that happen.