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The Little-Known Secrets of Latin American Design

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Latin Americans are known for their pride and hard work along with a playful, joyful side and the art of not taking things too seriously; all this makes Latin American design rather spicy. So, what are the ingredients to design success in this region?

The Latin World includes 19 countries and stretches from Tijuana, Mexico, to Patagonia in Chile. With a population of over half a billion and a per capita GDP greater than that of China in 2009, it represents a huge and growing market. However, with its large power distance, collectivist orientation, uncertainty avoidance and medium to strong masculine norms, Latin American cultures are radically different from that of all other regions.

Masculine values mean that men are expected to deal with facts, be assertive, ambitious and value challenges, earnings, recognition and advancement. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to deal with feelings, be tender and take care of relationships. Things are changing, though, especially now with many women moving into the workforce and having professional careers. How does its culture influence design and how does one design for this region's particular needs, wants and desires?

In this part of the world, group needs are seen as more important than those of the individual and the need of the group and its opinion is therefore considered important. This, together with the large power distance in Latin America, means that status is extremely important. This fuels a desire for status enhancing and prestige communicating products to communicate belonging to the group.

A high level of uncertainty avoidance means that strangers and change are seen as a potential danger, especially in rural areas. Rules, traditions and strong norms guide and protect these societies, making them somewhat static. This particular mix of power distance, collectivism, gender and uncertainty avoidance makes design a tricky task.

Thanks to a number of growing economies, led by Brazil, and successful crackdowns against crime in places like Colombia and Peru, South America, has become the new design hotspot. Creative professionals are re-interpreting "indigenous" designs in a modern context in everything from clothing and architecture to the beautification of shantytowns and street art.

To examine the state-of-the-art in Latin American design we invited the online creative community to share their outlook. More than 50 creative professionals offered their insights to our challenge: What is Latin American design?

We learned that contemporary Latin American design has yet to fully define itself. The northern part of the hemisphere is strongly influenced by North American design while European design still mostly influences the southern part. Many designers in Latin America are trained abroad and are bringing home proven design practices. Unafraid of being modern, they try out new combinations of materials and form, while injecting the region's history, culture and traditions. Their design has a unique blend of hand made craft and fashion, bringing hand made products to a level of sophistication, simplicity and semi industrial design. This results in warm, energetic, dynamic and colorful design expressions.

Of all our recent studies of design around the world, Latin American design has been the most challenging for designers to describe. As the Latin American economy continues to grow and expand, its influence on design will be more strongly felt and will continue to contribute to the tapestry that is design around the world.