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Differences Between North America and Europe (And How They Can Affect Design)

Gianmarco Caprio

Writer and editor at Phase with a fondness for photography, typography, design and travel.

How Cultural and Societal Differences Influence Design
North America and Europe are very similar in many regards: both continents host some of the most advanced societies and economies in the world today. They also share some cultural similarities and have a common history.
Nevertheless, design coming out of Europe and North America is different in many ways. What is causing such a difference in their respective design output? We will try to delve deeper and find out what sets North America and Europe apart.
North America and Europe: What Sets Them Apart?
There are plenty of things that unite North America with Europe. Most people living within the borders of North America today are of European descent, and the culture of the three biggest nations making up the continent today — the United States, Canada and Mexico — is what has been historically called Judeo-Christian. But North America is also incredibly multicultural. In fact, the US and Canada are two of the most multicultural countries on earth today. This, united with a certain desire to be different and culturally move away from Europe and towards a new, original identity has given rise to norms and a zeitgeist specific to them. This is particularly the case of the United States, where the desire of doing away with British influence after gaining independence was strong.
American culture is based on the ideas of freedom and individuality, and while the same can be said for the culture of much of Europe, the way these concepts are perceived in the Old Continent isn’t the same. Another big difference between North America and Europe is the way societies are politically organised — Europe today is largely made up of relatively small nation-states, while much of North America is comprised of three vast multi-ethnic federal states. Additionally, while Europe is not afraid of innovation, it likes to stay rooted in tradition.
North American and European Core Differences
Those mentioned above are just some of the aspects which, today, set North America and Europe apart. But there are other, more intimate, differences that define them and which have had a greater impact on the way the people in the two continents approach design. Let’s look at them.
Meaning
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The psyche of an average North American and that of an average European have been shaped differently enough to see substantial differences in the way the inhabitants of these two continents interpret reality and give meaning to what is around them.
Olha Bahaieva, a designer who has been working with companies and clients in both Europe and North America, offers quite an interesting practical example of this by saying that “the level of feedback from Europe and North America is different. When the designer hears “amazing” from a North American client, it means the design is fine. But when you hear “amazing” from a European client, it means your design is outstanding.”
This example speaks volumes to the differences in which people in the two continents approach the question of meaning. What may seem like a simple difference in the meaning attributed to a word reveals, in fact, an underlying, contrasting worldview — Americans have a tendency to be more positive and less direct than, say, Germans. And while the directness of Germans (and other Europeans) can be almost scary for an American, a person from Europe is likely to find American indirectness frustrating.
Awareness
Another key difference between North Americans and Europeans relates to awareness. There is no doubt that there are pretty noticeable differences in how people in Europe and people in North America have shaped their collective awareness.
Although a shift towards individuality has been a constant pretty much everywhere in the world (with a few notable exceptions), nowhere the stress on it is as strong as in North America, chiefly in the United States and Canada. The US were founded on the ideas of individual liberty and freedom, and although most, if not all, Europeans have followed suit, people in the Old Continent are still relatively aware of their sense of collective belonging.
This difference has profound implications in how designers produce and work together. It is not a coincidence if North America has more renowned graphic designers, while Europe has more renowned design studios.
Conclusions
Europe, as stated earlier on, is made up of many geopolitical realities that have different narratives and histories. North America, while not as varied, also has its internal differences, therefore it is reasonable to say that one cannot expect to find homogeneity within an area as vast as that of North America.
That said, if there's an aspect in how people in the two continents differ this is no doubt their relation to the past. If, on the one hand, Europe tends to be more rooted in its past, this is not necessarily true on the other side of the Atlantic, where cultures and nations which had been on the territory long before the arrival of Europeans aren't given much attention, to put it mildly.
Notes
The views expressed in this article are my own and generalisations were needed in order to draw similarities and differences between the people of North America and people in Europe.
It shouldn’t be needed, but to avoid any confusion it is important to specify that the comparisons made, and the resulting observations, are only along socio-cultural lines.
Additionally, in this article “North America” stands mostly for Canada and the United States, as Mexico is a meeting place of North and South American cultures, and “Europe” stands mostly for Western Europe.

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