Our environment continually influences our lifestyle, our decision-making process and the way we interact with the world around us.
Each one of us has an innate awareness of our surroundings, which impacts us knowingly and unknowingly. We tend to seek out environments with qualities that make us feel comfortable physically and psychologically. This level of comfort is influenced by many aspects of our lives, including our cultural background, political views, economic status and cross-cultural understanding of other environments. Using these factors, we can better understand how our life is influenced within a variety of environments.
Political and Economic Influences
Every governing body has a direct impact on our lives, regardless of whether or not each individual agrees or supports the laws and legislation passed. Politics significantly influence our behavior and the decisions we make every day. For example, the president holding office can impact our overall happiness and relationships with other people, no matter how their power is directly affecting our personal lives.
Our political attitudes are shaped by several factors, including family, gender, religion, race and ethnicity. Political viewpoints within the family tend to have a dramatic and enduring influence on our initial political identity. Attitudes on certain issues will either be reinforced or changed as we grow older. Although these specific opinions may differ from our parents' over time, we continue to share these same general political views.
Our region, gender, religion, race and ethnicity contribute to our political identity, but more importantly, our political views have an impact on elements of our lives that are categorically non-political. Research has shown that our political beliefs influence everything from the products we choose to purchase to the partners we choose to marry. These views also encourage us to reside in places where we feel embraced or accepted, emphasizing the correlation between our level of comfort in an environment and our political influences.
The world of economics influences our interactions within our environment as well. While other factors do affect how we define our happiness and life satisfaction, socioeconomic factors play a substantial role in our quality of life. According to the economic utility theory, we will choose to purchase or otherwise engage with products or services that increase our satisfaction. Products that are considered luxury or high-end are often desirable and quite popular, as they provide a perceived or real element of increasing our happiness.
Another way economics impacts our lives is in the concept of opportunity cost. Every choice we make has a price. Ideally, the result of the choice will outweigh the cost — for example, choosing employment to earn a wage is preferable over choosing free time but financially gaining nothing. We weigh many of our daily decisions with opportunity cost in mind, like choosing style over comfort or convenience over quality. These choices influence our actions, which then become habits and continue to direct our future decisions.
Politics and economics profoundly impact our daily lives. Every choice we make is affected, knowingly or unknowingly, by ideologies ingrained in us as children, which are modified throughout our lives. Although we may consider other societal or cultural attributes more defining characteristics of our personalities, there's no doubt that political and economic influences have a deep and lasting impact on the development of our identities. Our beliefs inform our sense of self, which is the essence we use to create a comfortable and consistent environment.
Culture embodies the past, present and future of our identities. Steeped in heritage and tradition yet constantly evolving with each generation, the individual and collective cultures we embrace shape every aspect of our personalities, including how we interact with our surroundings. No matter where we go or what we do, we allow our culture to shape our surroundings, and we develop ourselves by the lifestyles we're exposed to. According to cultural neuroscience, the relationship between culture and brain development is exceptional.
In fact, the concept and our acknowledgment of culture are wired into our brain chemistry. Regardless of the differences between individual cultures, studies have shown that our collective cultural background is linked to our neural activity during cognitive exercises like self-reflection, visual perception and arithmetic processing. As we perceive and attempt to develop and understand our concept of self, our brain uses this cultural background to influence the construction and representation of the self, both physically and psychologically.
These cultural influences on the brain also impact our evolution. One example of cultural practices influencing our genetics is in our ability to drink animal milk. Though humans were once unable to consume this substance safely, consistent indulgence over thousands of years has helped rewrite our genetic coding to accept the substance positively. Studies have shown that those with ancestral cultural backgrounds that practiced dairy farming frequently are more likely to have a stronger gene associated with lactose tolerance than those who do not share this cultural background.
Our unique cultural makeup is then exposed to our environment, which is full of other individuals who have their own unique cultural influences driving their behaviors and actions. Regardless of whether we share similar cultural views, significant differences can impact communication. For example, high-context cultures rely on interpretations and non-verbal cues, while low-context cultures use specific verbal communication cues to be understood explicitly. Other examples include sequential or synchronic cultures — linear sequences of events versus events happening simultaneously — and affective or neutral cultures — showing versus withholding emotions.
Consider how these cultural differences impact our perception. Culture has a direct influence on our memory, specifically on how well we recall the details of an event as it relates to our recollection of the self. If we adopt an affective culture and are speaking about a topic of personal and private importance with someone reflecting a neutral culture, their neutral emotional responses may not satisfy us. Although they may genuinely be engaging us on an emotional level, our misunderstanding may leave us with a negative perception.
Culture varies from country to country, region to region and person to person. These differences influence our genetic makeup, our brain chemistry and our ability to communicate and perceive the world around us. As we interact with similar and different cultures in diverse environments, we continue to adapt our own beliefs, values and perceptions to form a redefined sense of self. Culture is more than just who we are — it's the essence of our world.
Social and cultural norms are shaped by external factors like political landscape, status quo and current events, as well as internal factors like personal beliefs, contextual awareness and learned etiquette. These norms influence our willingness to behave in ways that are deemed acceptable or unacceptable by those in our environment. However, certain situations can influence us to act against what we understand to be the appropriate behavior and cause a disruption in our habits.
The concept of behavioral economics attempts to help consumers direct their behaviors toward choices that will ultimately make them happy. In a sense, it acts as a guidance system to influence right behaviors while correcting or avoiding decisions that do not generate personal satisfaction. Since our unique logic is altered and modified by our environment, our cognitive processes may act according to a variety of different rules depending on the context of the situation.
For example, we may purchase something according to an opportunity cost assessment but indulge in behavior that maximizes happiness via impulsivity. The context of the situation — along with our perception of the environment — influences which cognitive process directs our behavior. Although behavioral economics generally focuses on consumer psychology, we can use the same conceptual foundation to consider the way our environment influences our decision-making process. Whether we want to achieve a goal or finish our workload, the context of our environment influences our choices.
The way our environment is designed influences the way we choose to behave. Though our desire to accomplish a task may be sincere, our environment can either keep us engaged or distract us from our objective. Every element in our environment creates a frame of reference that we rely on to make decisions. We'll seek out situations or behaviors that are familiar or comfortable and revert to habits we've developed. For instance, working at a desk increases our productivity more than working in front of a television.
Fortunately, we can modify our environments to impact our behavior positively. The way we design our surroundings can influence our behavior and direct us to the habits that lead us to our objective. Working away from a television may improve our focus, but eliminating all distractions from our environment will enable us to easily and conveniently make decisions that provide the maximum benefits.
The choices we make financially, emotionally and objectively are influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. As we interpret our environment according to our own cognitive reasoning, we're also exposed to situations and contexts that elicit behaviors which do not help us achieve our goals. However, if we actively design our environments to encourage positive decisions, we can form habits that achieve beneficial results.
Cross-Cultural Design Due to Influences
The political, economic, cultural and behavioral factors that influence decision-making processes should be taken into account in the design of products and services. By using a cross-cultural design approach that embraces and caters to these differences, you can effectively speak to your audience and help them create a comfortable environment that they want to engage in.
The aesthetics and application of design must delve far deeper than surface functionality. With so many elements of our environment influencing the way we think, act and react, a product or service needs to move us positively to encourage our interaction. It's no surprise then that design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives. However, the concept of a successful design is subjective in each environment.
The design must cater to the expected behaviors that will occur within a specific setting.
The population in the United States composes only five percent of the world's population. Ethnic or racial cultures feature seven elements of culture — religion, social organization, customs and traditions, language, arts and literature, forms of government and economic systems. Within our country, there are so many cultural differences from region to region, state to state and even city to city that it's nearly impossible to quantify just how many cultures and sub-cultures exist. Although each element does continue to evolve, culture diffusion occurs as well, allowing those with cultural differences to come together via similarities.
With so many diverse cultures evolving by the day, manufacturers need to be able to adapt to changes by creating product designs that transcend any cultural barriers that may exist for the user. High-context and low-context cultures, as well as affective and neutral cultures, may share a common language yet communicate in vastly different ways. Developing a design that acknowledges this difference and works to circumvent potential barriers will have the most widespread appeal.
Consider opportunity cost once more. Two products may serve a similar purpose, but their ease of usability may dramatically differ. If Product A has an inconvenient design that's not intuitive or accessible for the user, it will not fit seamlessly into their environment — even if it meets their needs. However, if Product B can meet the user's needs quickly and conveniently, it will be easier to integrate into their lifestyle, especially if it's a high-end product that will generate happiness and satisfaction.
Culture-Driven Design does more than cater to the needs of users — it allows them to integrate your concepts into their frame of reference. By combining your design and elements that create their environment, you're able to create a sense of comfort and consistency that speaks to the essence of their lifestyle.
Culture-Driven Industrial Design From Y Studios
How a person interacts with a product or service is directed by their reasoning of why they should engage with it. Understanding how an individual's perception of their environment and sense of self is influenced by different political, economic, cultural and behavioral influences will give you valuable insight into the reasoning behind their thoughts, decisions and actions.
We invite you to learn more about our dynamic approach to industrial design. Join us as we explore the essence of why we interact with our world in unique ways through Y Studios INSIGHTS. You can also view dozens of our completed product designs that naturally integrate into the user's environment.
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