, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 403–417 | Cite as

Waves and forms: constructing the cultural in design

  • Ammar HalabiEmail author
  • Basile Zimmermann
Original Article


While research in HCI on dealing with cultural issues when designing ICTs tended to adopt fixed and taxonomic views, recent theoretical perspectives closer to the social sciences have called for attending to the contingent, fluid, and dynamic aspects of the notion of culture. In this article, we contribute to translating these perspectives into an approach for informing design. We focus on abandoning prior conceptions of culture to allow the discovery of cultural differences through inductive field research while engaging with the target community. This allows a view on cultural difference that is generative for design: it is unique to each case, and it also remains close to the concerns of community members. We base our approach on Basile Zimmermann’s (2015) waves and forms framework, and we illustrate it through our engagement and design with VOCI, a local voluntary community of tech-savvy university students in Syria between 2011 and 2015.


Culture HCI design Waves and forms Syria Voluntary community 



We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comprehensive feedback as well as the editors of this special issue for their dedication and encouragement. We would also like to thank Trevor Pinch, Nicolas Nova, Martin Weinel, Harry Collins, and Robert Evans for constructive discussions and criticism about the framework during the past 4 years. We appreciate the several informal conversations we had with Amalia Sabiescu which were inspiring around the implications and bearings of the waves and forms framework. Furthermore, Matteo Tarantino and Tania Messell provided us with valuable critique for improving the clarity of our argument. We are also thankful to Michèle Courant, Béat Hirsbrunner, and colleagues at the Department of Informatics in the University of Fribourg, for their constant support through the years of research on VOCI. The support of the Confucius Institute at the University of Geneva is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of InformaticsUniversity of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of East Asian StudiesUniversity of GenevaGenève 4Switzerland

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