What is a Milan tram doing in San Francisco? Well the simple answer is that they bought & brought it over. But the more fundamental question is one of identity: how could such an iconic American city have such an iconic Italian tram? Can two distinct national identities coexist?
One way design has been leveraged is as a differentiating tool. First to shape products, then to shape brands, and - in the best cases - ultimately leveraged to shape national identities. We do have, after all, distinct expectation about German, Italian or Scandinavian design. Each one conjures up a specific value system, a way of living… an ideology. I have friends from all corners of the world who have a more “Italian” temperament, or a more “Scandinavian” attitude.
Today, ideas, people, and opportunities move and mix at unprecedented rates. In this global world San Francisco may more in common with Milan than it has with Nebraska or rural West Virginia. As I prepare to head out to Tokyo today I am left wondering if the differences in the world outweigh their similarities. Will national boundaries continue to define the boundaries of competiveness? If not, what is the role of national innovation policies and of design as “differentiator”?