Appropriation Versus Appreciation

An age old question that boggles the mind of all designers.




Recently I saw a post by an amazing furniture designer, Robert Sukrachand, as he tried to answer the question of what is appropriation versus appreciation in his work. He grappled with big questions and described his work in relation to the works that came before it.

Like Robert and so many other designers, we too, prefer to live with the world as our muse. As proponents for breaking the euro-centric view on good design it is a goal of ours to look to the multitude of design techniques, forms and colors outside of the overarching corporate colonizer design aesthetic.

“The way to appropriately stay away from appropriation is through respect, recognition, inclusion and hopefully a contemporary reinvention of the thing to put your flavor on it. ”

But as we hope to build a new, more inclusive lens for great mainstream design, how do we maintain our interests while falling unarguably in the appreciation camp and away from appropriation.


Parsing It Out


Who I am and who so many of my friends are offers a jumping off point for us to explore these big questions. My parents came from Pakistan in the late 70s. I was born in Houston, Texas and was raised in a Pakistani Muslim household with a strong love for our home state. We went to the rodeo and ate biryani and prayed in Arabic not Urdu and never really thought twice about the cognitive dissonance so many Americans would see in our lifestyle. I moved to California and pretty much drank that health nut, progressive Cali kool-aid and now have another adopted culture as part of my heritage.

As I ponder my cultural and aesthetic design preferences, so much of it stems from the Mexican (Spanish+Indigenous) influence mixed in Texas and California and of the colorfully ornate traditions of South Asia (which was also colonized by Europeans for centuries). This pondering leaves me gooey. I don't know how to begin to parse out the different cultures nor if I can really even separate the fusions of design that occurred because of the forced coming together of these traditions.


One thing I do understand for certain is how globalization, migration and adaptation lead to new results that both pick up and shed aesthetics and techniques. This process is fluid and ever morphing. Food is an excellent example of this inter-mixture. Fusion food gets a different kind of heat than fashion and design when questions of appropriation arise.


Let's be clear: to utilize a design technique or style that doesn't belong to your direct heritage with no recognition of its history or of your acknowledgement of it is wrong. It is wrong to exploit something with no regards or responsibility for its consequences. There are also different metrics for those groups of people who have benefited from outright exploitation of others this whole time.


The point I make is that fusions, adaptations and learned design styles is a natural part of societal evolution, becoming more relevant as globalization and mass cross-migrations continue. The way to appropriately stay away from appropriation is through respect, recognition, inclusion and hopefully a contemporary reinvention of the thing to put your flavor on it.