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  • Writer's pictureThe Bridge Sisters

Designing Culturally Appropriate Content: Keys to Effective Communication.

Updated: Feb 21

By Mar Daraviña and Pamela Erin Mason Ramos



A word cloud coming out of a brain with color paint
Human beings are inherently visual creatures. We are a diverse mix of existences that differ in our sociocultural contexts, including beliefs and practices. These differences shape the way we perceive and interpret forms, colors, visual stimuli, and all kinds of symbols.

In a world built on exchange, graphic design is a communication tool that provides an identity for both the sender and the receiver of the message. It facilitates shared understanding and builds relationships, effectively capturing the attention of our audience through visual representation. To achieve effective communication, messages should include attributes and characteristics of the cultural group being targeted in order to maintain or create an identity. 


Human beings are inherently visual creatures. We are a diverse mix of existences that differ in our sociocultural contexts, including beliefs and practices. These differences shape the way we perceive and interpret forms, colors, visual stimuli, and all kinds of symbols. For instance, let's consider a US organization whose services focus on providing education to vulnerable communities. One of their programs is targeting the Latinx immigrant population. Its leadership team is composed of mostly non-Latinx white individuals who do not share the same cultural practices, language, or context as their Latinx constituents. The organization is developing outreach materials to promote the program within Spanish Speakers in the area.


What may be appealing and acceptable to one social group (non-Latinx white individuals) could be perceived as boring, meaningless, or even offensive to another social group (the Latinx community).

In this case, developing culturally appropriate graphic content for the Latinx community can pose a challenge for this organization. This is because what may be appealing and acceptable to one social group (non-Latinx white individuals) could be perceived as boring, meaningless, or even offensive to another social group (the Latinx community). Additionally, it often happens that informative materials such as brochures or pamphlets promoting the organization's activities are originally developed in English and then translated into Spanish without cultural adaptation in design, language, or idioms. This results in literal translations and visual materials that fail to convey the desired message and connect with the intended audience. In this example, graphic design must fulfill a dual function: maintaining coherence in the style that identifies the values and mission of the organization, while effectively engaging the Latinx community through culturally appropriate language and idioms that resonate with their specific identity.


When we are leading projects that involve the development of a new brand, a simple graphic, or the use of language, it is important to acknowledge where we are coming from and be aware of the cultural and belief systems that drive or influence our taste and therefore our decisions in the outcome of the project.

From the perspective of sociology of culture, Pierre Bourdieu (1984) points out the existence of a social sense of taste, which is determined by social class. In other words, an individual's or particular social group's aesthetic experience, or what they like, is influenced by economic and cultural backgrounds such as upbringing and education, among other things. According to Bourdieu, taste socially classifies and enables the identification and recognition of individuals within a society. Creative processes within graphic design aim to solve communication problems, emphasizing the importance of understanding the specificities of the audience and create visual resources that resonate with the audience and align with their cultural affiliations.


One common mistake among organizations led by individuals who do not share the cultural practices of the target population, and who do not consciously reflect on it, is to generate content based on their own considerations of aesthetics and social acceptability without questioning whether the intended population recognizes those elements in the same way. Simple issues such as the selection of color palettes, fonts, or symbols used can be crucial for the engagement of that content.


When we are leading projects that involve the development of a new brand, a simple graphic, or the use of language, it is important to acknowledge where we are coming from and be aware of the cultural and belief systems that drive or influence our taste and therefore our decisions in the outcome of the project. This is crucial because it allows us to accept the differences we have with our target population, enables us to ask questions to better understand their needs and preferences, and seek culturally competent advice when necessary. This, in turn, allows us to produce effective messaging and responsible / culturally appropriate content.


When developing culturally appropriate content, we must approach it ethically and be sensitive to cultural diversity. This allows us to critically approach our position of enunciation to avoid cultural biases that may hurt our messaging and therefore the communities we are trying to support.

Graphic communication carries social and cultural responsibility because it has the power to establish messages that become references for groups, collectives, or movements through visual elements that generate appropriation of these elements and their meaning. That is why, when developing culturally appropriate content, we must approach it ethically and be sensitive to cultural diversity. This allows us to critically approach our position of enunciation to avoid cultural biases that may hurt our messaging and therefore the communities we are trying to support. Failing to consider these factors can lead to misunderstandings and even offense.


In conclusion, designing culturally appropriate content involves considering the cultural, aesthetic, historical, and symbolic particularities of the social group being targeted and/or represented to ensure that the message we want to convey is appropriate. This is especially important from an empowering standpoint for organizations, institutions, or individuals providing services with the purpose of positively transforming the realities of marginalized communities.



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