Global Design?

In her painting “Kapsalon Wonder,” Ellen Gallagher works through the historical entanglements of industry, colonialism and design in global modernity. Detail, gloss varnish, rubber, ink and paper on canvas, 2015. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth; installation shot Johann Jacobs Museum, Zurich 2019. Photograph: © Geneviève Frisson

Sophia Prinz, what is Global Design?

First and foremost, global design is a matter of perspective. Gone are the days when design history could be told as a story of the Western world. Modern design was not invented in Dessau, Ulm or Zurich, but should be understood as the result of global interdependencies. Trade, wars, migration and colonialism have sent not only people, but also raw materials, things, design techniques and forms around the globe.

The “English” Paisley Pattern, for example, originates in the Persian-Indian textile tradition. Actually called boteh (a Persian word), it was copied and mass-produced in the 19th century by weavers in the Scottish town of Paisley using the first digital machine, the Jacquard loom. Another example is rubber, harvested under the cruellest conditions in the Belgian crown colony of Congo, not only to revolutionize industrial moulding in Europe, but also to enable insulating the first transatlantic submarine cable.

Today’s designers are interested in these transcultural and colonial origins of design — not least in order to hone their own professional self-image and to develop global forms of cooperation that are not based on exploitation and unequal power relations.

In this section, experts from around ZHdK briefly consider key terms and concepts in the arts and culture. The steadily expanding glossary is available online at:
Prof. Dr. Sophia Prinz ( is professor of design theory and history in the Department of Design at ZHdK.
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