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Human-Centred Design is an approach to design driven by the needs, desires and context of the people for whom we design Culture and context

Culture and design

Why graffiti?

To design useful, usable and desirable products we need to understand the context of the humans interacting with the products and services.

Take trains for example - in the UK, where there is a strong culture of health and safety, legislation dictates that the front of trains must incorporate a certain amount of yellow to increase visibility. In continental Europe, this is not the case. Designers of trains destined for the UK must therefore design around this constraint

During LDF2013, our pop-up space was located in the heart of Shoreditch, one of the most prolifically painted and tagged parts of London.

When we practice HCD we seek to understand different layers of context:

Context icons

People Products & services Environments

Graffiti and street art are evolving forms of urban expression, increasingly attracting the attention of tourists, the media, art collectors and galleries.

‘Javelin train at St Pancras International by interbeat’ photo by Ed Webster


‘AGV .italo Napoli side view’ photo by Hoff1980


We’ve looked at the work of graffiti writers and street artists in 5 cities through the lenses of culture and context, exploring how the following contextual frameworks impact their work


Culture is the lens through which we view everything, from language to physical forms

© PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

Velaro Siemens train photo by Illkka Silssalo

Trains in the United Kingdom

Trains in continental Europe






THE MECCA OF GRAFFITI Philadelphia may be the birthplace of modern graffiti, but New York is where it took its renowned form. It reached its peak in the 80s, but even today NY codes of conduct, motifs and styles are emulated worldwide.

New York

Featured image credit: 5 Pointz Jules Antonio @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti seen from Manhatten Bridge

Featured image credit: Brooklyne Bushwick Graffiti Wally Gobetz @flickr

Featured image credit: Super Kool 223. New York

Strict policing forces writers to work quickly to avoid getting caught, resulting in styles that achieve maximum coverage and impact in a short space of time, such as simplistic letterforms and colour palettes. Stringent policing has also led to anti-police messages The inhospitable New York winters also compel writers to work quickly, while the rain provides a window of opportunity as New Yorkers head indoors during a downpour, leaving the streets deserted Featured image credit: NYPD & NYFD Katie Gavin @flickr

Featured image credit: Ket featured @tumblr

© PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

Hip hop and graffiti grew out of 80s NYC culture, starting out as forms of expression - ‘rocking’ - dancing (breakdancing), poetry (rapping), graffiti (art) and music (turntablism)

CHOLO-INFLUENCED URBAN SPRAWL An arresting combination of Latino gang culture and sprawling urban landscape has spawned LA’s distinctive, cholo-influenced graffiti style.

Los Angeles image credit: Ca#2657 Amayzun @flickr

Featured image credit: F13 LRS Mgs TagsofLA1986 @flickr

Featured image credit: Rodeo Coolcat carnagenyc @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti and Wading Birds Down LA River

Featured image credit: Florentia ‘71 KID DUECE @flickr

Cholo-style originated in the 1940s when Latino gangs marked their territories using a Gothic-Baroque ‘Old English’ font to convey authority. When NY-style graffiti arrived in the early 80s, it was imitated and combined with local cholo-aesthetic, giving birth to LA-style graffiti. Featured image credit: 5 Pointz Jules Antonio @flickr

Billboards, or ‘heaven spots’, are a favoured target, with some pieces recognised as works of art, via projects such as Public Works, by LALALand.

Featured image credit: Seventh Letter Crew Cathy Cole @flickr

Featured image credit: Nov 2012 B 006 Lord Jim @flickr

© PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

LA’s complex networks of highways provides a variety of canvases for writers. The LA river’s 50 miles of concrete banks was home to the world’s largest graffiti piece, by SABER MSK, painted in 1997 and removed in 2009.

The pleasant Californian weather gives writers and artists more time to work on their pieces.

PIXAÇÃO = ‘TO STAIN’ Pixação, which began in the 1960s in response to political slogans on billboards, is today more of a ‘a loud assertion by the city’s youth of their existence and self-worth’; its visual style is influenced by the fonts used by 80s metal bands.

São Paolo

Featured image credit: PICHAÇÕES Segunda-Feira

Featured image credit: Sao Vito Windows @ wikipedia

Featured image credit: Fotógrafo Leandro Mantovani retrata a pichação e a rua (5)

In Brazil, pixação (“staining”) is a way for the youth and those living at the margins of society to protest against the increasing gulf between the rich and poor by tagging São Paolo’s skyscrapers — the physical symbols of wealth and inequality Featured image credit: PIXAÇÃO Thais Ibarrondo

Pichadores (graffiti writers) aim to paint as high up in the city as possible, usually by abseiling or climbing multi-storey buildings, and much kudos is given to those who tag the highest, most dangerous place There’s a high level of respect among the pichadores. Pixação tags are often seen stacked up on top of each other - avoiding conflict by not painting over other tags

Featured image credit: Pixo Escurocinza @tumblr

© PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

Featured image credit: PIXAÇÃO-SP, por Choque Fórum Latino Americano de Fotografia - São Paulo @tumblr

Featured image credit: Pixacao Pablo Trincado @flickr

EUROPE’S MOST ‘BOMBED’ CITY Conventional graffiti first appeared on the West side of the Berlin Wall in the early 80s, when it was subject to a new type of ‘bombing’ (tagging). Like many other cities, Berlin’s graffiti still emulates that of 80s New York.

Berlin Featured image credit: Berlin Street Art Marek Isalski @flickr

Featured image credit: We Don’t want no yuppie flats, we are happy with our rats Aesthetics of Crisis @flickr

Featured image credit: Street Art BLU - carnageNYC @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti and Reflection Wolfgangfoto @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti Martin aka Maha @flickr

Reflecting Germany’s social and political history, the work of today’s street artists and graffiti writers embodies themes of conflict and protest, calling to reclaim the city from the advancing gentrification

Featured image credit: Pixo Escurocinza @tumblr

An abundance of vacant buildings provides the canvas for expression without fear of reprisal, contributing to the volume of graffiti in Berlin While much graffiti and street art is illegal, police rarely make arrests, as the work attracts tourists and contributes to the perception of Berlin as an edgy, modern “City of Design”, a moniker bestowed by UNESCO

Featured image credit: Yuppies Auslachen -Prost! Urban Artefakte @flickr

© PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

‘KAWAII’ (CUTE) GRAFFITI Japan’s culture of respect for authority doesn’t mean that Tokyo is devoid of graffiti, but it’s not as ubiquitous as elsewhere. While Japanese writers often emulate Western graffiti styles and much of the work in Tokyo is by Western writers, ‘Kawaii’ - the quality of cuteness - adds a uniquely Japanese flavour.

Tokyo Featured image credit: Graffiti - Hello Kitty is street-wise Kleemo @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti - Harajuku TimKirman @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti - Unnamed Yuichi Hirasawa @flickr

Featured image credit: Hiroshima Nagasaki Fukushima Daniel Rubio @flickr

Featured image credit: Graffiti - Tokyo - Street Art Isobrown @flickr

Japanese pop culture and cartoons, such Hello Kitty, Tarepanda and Manga comics contribute to a ‘Kawaii’influenced style. Japan’s culture of law-abiding politeness means that many writers and artists in Tokyo gain permission for their work and aim for it “to act like nature”, not intruding on people’s lives, but rather harmonising with their surroundings. Anti_Nuke, whose work is politically-charged and controversial, is the exception, using paste-ups to protest against government corruption after Fukushima disaster and is likened to Banksy as no one knows who he, or she, is.

Featured image credit: Art Shibuya Christian.Ryan @flickr

Featured image credit: Shibuya #4 Graffiti Ken Lee @flickr

© PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

Featured image credit: 281_Anti Nuke Trevor Dykstra @flickr

Socialise London studio + 44 (0)20 8735 1111 Hong Kong studio + 852 2997 6151

Š PDD Group Ltd 2013 |

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Graffiti in context  

As part of London Design Festival, we collaborated with Karim Samuels, a local graffiti expert, to explore how the culture, environments and...