Whether they be the most monumental, mundane or just plain, products and artefacts that we interact with each day hold meaning, even those that are hardly noticeable. A door handle to grasp suggests it should be pulled, a plate suggests it be pushed. Buses with steep steps suggest a disregard for the elderly and the disabled. A Spring Dinner invitation not received suggests a snub. Incessant public consultations, “scientific studies” and budget blow-outs suggest inability to act or to accept accountability. We construe meaning everywhere.
Things may be designed for function, but designs are not produced in a vacuum. They come from social and cultural contexts, even political ones, which imbue the design and the artefact with meaning.
Designs may come from a place of limited knowledge but the design of things always derives from the embedded environment of the designer, and his or her context of meaning.
Objects made and used by humans change and those changes are not always technological. Businesses are forever adjusting branding and service offerings to compete, or just because new management has different preferences, or a need to be seen to be doing something, anything.
Objects and artefacts also change as social values and politics change. They are symbolic of a change made and changes to be made. They can be used to nudge change, slowly and almost imperceptibly. There are signs of these sorts of changes in Macau.
The Financial Services Bureau has long been a favourite department of mine. The service is pleasant, prompt and helpful; explanations are clear and I always leave having achieved some level of success. A nice touch, unusual elsewhere, is the stamp the teller can add to one’s blank cheque designating the tax office as payee. It is easier and fail-safe to have the teller add this, so it has been my customary practice to use this option. The change may have happened earlier, but this week I noticed the stamp was smaller; there was no writing in Portuguese this time, just three Chinese characters: 財政局. What is the meaning in the design of this new stamp to remove one of the official languages?
When recently attempting to open a new company bank account, the Articles of Association we submitted were not accepted by the local bank branch. Due to being written in Portuguese, it could not be read or verified by the branch staff. We live and learn. It would have been more pragmatic to have used a Chinese lawyer. Was there a design failure in HR allocation at that bank, or some intent in design here?
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge is one big symbol, full of meaning in design. Firstly, it does not seem to be meant for the likes of me, or international visitors: MICE-goers, foreign business people, non-Chinese tourists. The HKIA to Macau connection is ad hoc, cumbersome and time-consuming for travellers with luggage – it’s more an option for a back-packer than the long-haul business executive or well-to-do moneyed visitor. The signage is huge and clear, for those of us that read Chinese. From Hong Kong to Macau – both being regions which use right-hand-drive vehicles on left-hand carriage ways – both road and driver flip sides for the length of the bridge following mainland Chinese road rules.
In terms of traffic management on this point-to- point bridge, the location of separated carriage ways makes little difference. The decision, however, is suggestive of a pecking order, and of future standards and expectations different from those used today. It offers a poignant reminder of symbolism in design.