The Politics of Design: A (Not So) Global Design Manual for Visual Communication

By: Ruben Pater
192 pages of colored paperback
ISBN: 978-90-6349-422-7
Published by: BIS Publisher, The Netherlands.

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“Is this a book on how to design?”. This was my first thought after I picked up this book. And this was almost the same question my daughter had when I handed her the same book many months later.

The answer to that, I suppose, is that it is not a book on how to design. Rather, The Politics of Design is a book on how politics, religion, and culture influence decisions on design. And how these same forces can influence someone’s designs. It also has a few cautionary tales of how not considering the politics, religion, or culture of the intended audience can cause embarrassing consequences.


  • In 1999 Mazda came up with the name Laputa for a minivan intended for the South American market before realizing it meant “prostitute” in that part of the world.
  • Autocratic regimes normally publish photos of their leaders during a time of youth, as youth portrays strength. You will never find an official photo of these leaders.
  • Old maps portray an exaggerated size and scope of a country or empire when compared to competing territories.
  • To promote tourism and additional business, promotions might portray people in ways other than how those people would like to view themselves. The Maasai in Kenya, are portrayed in villages wearing traditional garments, and spears, and performing traditional dances. Most of them might want to be seen as professionals living in urban areas.
  • Businesses use design to promote an image of themselves. The Amazon logo signifies everything from “A to Z”, and The FedEx logo with an embedded arrow.


This book is more a collection of talking points, no actual surprise or any ground-breaking knowledge is conveyed. It makes a point of emphasizing the need to know your target audience to avoid misunderstanding.

It is not a “How to” book on design.

© 2023 – 2024, Norman Talon. All rights reserved.

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