Is globalisation causing a homogenisation of design?

Last month I was walking the streets of Oslo, when a logo on a building caught my eye. The Norsk Sjømannsforbund (Norwegian Seafarers Union) is in a horribly 60s building. Square, brown, and officious looking. However, the logo that they use, to me at least, speaks perfectly of who they are. When I looked at it, I saw Norwegian fisherman, living a cold and harsh life in the North Sea. I saw fjords, beards and old boats (cliché, I know). Everything, from the layout, to the colours, to the typography fit perfectly, and would feel slightly out of place in most other countries.

I love walking the streets of a new city and soaking in the local air, from architecture, to urban planning, to graphic design. For me, the design within a city can distill the ideas of both the environment and a culture. Local variations on colour, layout and typography speak to individual circumstances of time, people and place.

It was a month or so later when I was on a bus in Barcelona that I was thinking about this kind of local design. Architecture is the big, obvious one. These days, we rarely get big name architects who only work within one area. Instead, we get the same style across the globe. An iconic design, like that of The Shard in London, is by an architect who has buildings in London, New York, Osaka and Amsterdam (and many more). Similarly in graphic design, we have global agencies and individual designers dictating design trends that everyone else follows, with the only real divide in design happening between major cultural differences (East Asia and the West for example). Even then, homogenised Western trends are starting to seep in to those markets as well, with Western markets being opened up to Eastern companies.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing. Globalisation has both it’s good and bad points. I’m just wondering whether this kind of global design is killing off the subtle local variations that speak of a particular time and place. Whether local design traditions are being eschewed in favour of what’s shiny and popular elsewhere in the world. I also wonder whether it means that trends are going to be more incremental and subtle, as opposed to big game changers like Bauhaus or the Swiss Design movement.

These are just thoughts I had while sitting on a bus. What do you think? Are there major plus sides I’m missing from the argument? Am I completely wrong, and local design is still flourishing? Is this a wholly western-centric viewpoint and I should probably travel further than Europe? All thoughts welcome…