It is perfectly reasonable to expect a design to take into account the cultural context in which it will be used. Indeed, doing so may well be a critical factor to that design’s success.

A recent incident at work raised this interesting point: will the presence of strong superstitions in a culture negatively impact that culture’s ability to innovate?

We designed a logo for a client. The logo was to be used in the Asia Pacific region including China. The client, upon receipt of this logo, decided to ask several of his contacts around the region for feedback. Apparently, blue lettering on white is the colour combination associated with death (in Chinese culture). It is supposedly most often seen in the lanterns used in Chinese funerals which had blue writing on white paper.

Not having been to any actual traditional Chinese funerals, the blue on white symbolism was unknown to me (I couldn’t even find a photo of said lantern on Google). Indeed, subsequent feedback from other designers in the region seems to indicate that this is not as significant an issue as the client believed. This notwithstanding, we changed the colours of course.

I wonder how often, and to what extent, superstitions affect design decisions across the world. Is it any accident that the stereotypical (majority of?) brands visible in Chinese cultures are predominantly red, often with gold trim/highlights? Or that the many Chinese businesses not only have safe and conservative names, but also simplistically auspicious and aspirational names?

How far has this fear of bad luck, fear of death, fear of being too different, fear of tempting fate, etc held back the progress of branding in countries where Chinese culture and superstitions dominate?

Like it or not, superstitions can act as a progress brake. It limits new thinking. The mass and blindly accepted no-go zones become invisible and thus unquestioned.

Superstitions are not limited to the Chinese alone of course. They are present in, and affect different societies to different degrees on this entire planet. Is it time to look at what beliefs you are taking for granted? What superstitions are holding you back?