Sunday, January 29, 2006

3 Rude Red Nacos

We invited one of Sandra's classmates and her husband for tea yesterday. They are an australian couple, and they lived for a couple of years in Germany. As you may imagine, we shared some anecdotes about our experiences in Germany. Of course, because the girls are studying international communication, we talked about the cultural differences. They came up with a theory, that there is no german translation or equivalent to the word "rude". So, how can you explain to a german that he/she is being rude? If there is no word in a language for a certain concept, well, it means that they are still unaware of such concept.

The same happened to me when I tried to explain the concept of "Naco" to my students in New Zealand. They simply didn't understand the idea, because it was imposible for them to get an image of the "signified" (concept). That doesn't mean that there are no nacos in New Zealand... it only means that they are unaware of their existence, therefore they don't have a word for that. Choquis asked me surprised: "how do they refer to something or someone naco then?" Well, they simply don't know it exists. By the way... someone should nominate Luis de Alba for an Honoris Causa Ph.D. in Linguistic, for his incredible contribution to the Naco concept and the Nacology Science.

There are many concepts like that in all languages, which they simply don't have a translation into other languages. This shows how different cultures have different views of the world and their environment. We create and construct meaning according to our particular views. Signifiers are just the way of expressing all things that matter to us.

Propaganda is when there is a deliberate attempt to impose a certain (usually politically driven) meaning into a concept. I am certain that not everyone in the world will understand "democracy" in the same way. In fact, the philosophers deffinitions of democracy, are way off of the "induced by doctrine" idea, that many of us have about it.

    “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Thomas Jefferson

As we create (construct) our own image of the world, we also create mediums and codes to communicate those concepts. Language is one of those mediums. Movies are also a medium . Design is also a medium.... but what about the codes? Well, the codes are conventions we use, and we agree upon for the use of that medium (check the code conventions for movies almost at the end of chapter 8th of Daniel Chandler's book). For languages it's called gramatic, semantic, etc. But when we talk about design... well, many people say that there are no conventions, that it is always "abstract" and there are no set rules. Wrong!

Those are the arguments of someone who is not familiar with the use of design as a medium or communication tool. There are simple rules... some of them are explained on the basic composition books...(check out: Universal Principles of Design) and some are more complex. It's just as complicated as learning a second language... with the disadvantage that in fact some of the visual or cultural codes are also variable as the spoken language... but it's harder to understand or identify those cultural differences. For example, a New Zealander wouldn't understand easily a "naco" object... or a Mexican wouldn't understand why kiwis' favourite colour is black. I strongly reccomend David Chandler's book, specially for the composition students.... It's like "semiology for dummies".

Signs and symbols are interpreted by different cultures in different ways... just like there are words with different meanings in different languages: Bimbo in Mexico would be a brand of bread, and usually used to identify sliced bread. Binbo Bimbo in Japanese means poor, and a bimbo in english would refer to a blondine or so. I believe that there's something similar with our interpretations of one of the most "iconic" symbols there is: The Red Cross.

I've heard many times, that the red cross logo is for many people not a sign, but a symbol (in Peircianinan terms) which means that it represents an abstract concept (The Red Cross Organization) and is not necesarely a pictogram of an object (a cross). But many other cultures, countries, or individuals still see the logo as a symbol of christianity. We cannot blame them. It's a matter of interpretation, encoding, decoding, etc...

The new logo is supposed to be free from any religious, political or other preconceived connotation to make it "universal":

For me, it's sad that one of the most cited logos is now being disqualified, or qualified as politically incorrect. However, meanings are cultural constructions... it's just a matter of time, until the next generation will strongly identify the red crystal emblem with the ICRC...(or whatever their name becomes later on).

My only concern, it that the new crystal will include small emblems (symbols) inside: a Crescent, a David's Shield, a Cross... or it could be even a Silver Fern! I don't know...! That seems to me like back again to the same story... because the organization won't be regarded then as "universal", global or borderless, if they start showing national icons as a sub-symbol. If the matter was being "democratic", then the emblem should be completely... completely free from any religious, political or other connotation.

Then, there's the matter of using the term "crystal"... because of positive but also negative interpretations like: fragile, transparent, clusters of crystals, sharp, cutting edge, cheap... It could have been named "Red Diamond" and have some other implicit meanings. In fact, one of my favourite corporation names is Mitsubishi (three diamonds). It just sounds nice and keeps you thinking about the possible stories of those 3 diamonds.


ciao
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2 Comments:

Blogger Forty_Two said...

And then there are some symbols that seem to be universal. The combination of red, white, and black demands attention in almost any culture, regardless of how they are used. There is a baby products company in America that uses this combination of colors on those mobiles that hang above cribs. And of course, Hitler hit the jackpot by employing the same combination of colors in his party's symbols.

I have a moral dilemma waiting for you on my weblog. Tell me what you would do in such a situation.

2:38 AM  
Blogger Fernando Vallejo said...

That's a hard dilemma!

You are right, some combinations of colours have sometimes effects or interpretations that are almost universal. Colour theory is just one of the basic design principles in composition.

My best example was a very good hamburguer restaurant... they baked their own bread (like those guys at subway's) and the quality was supreme... problem was, that the restaurant was all painted in blue. The sensation of coldness was very strong inside the place. After a few months, they closed the place. If only they've painted it in yellowish or orange tones!

ciao

3:35 AM  

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