Aboriginal Design Principles


A literature review into Aboriginal website design considered design processes, questions of usability and particular cultural design approaches such as localization. As part of the review process, some general cultural design guidelines were identified from previous literature (Table 1.1 and 1.2). A number of other key issues were also raised that will need to be considered in both the choice of key design features and the most appropriate design process to follow in designing an Aboriginal website. These issues are summarised below.

The main issues as they relate to design within an Aboriginal context have been summarised in Table 1.2. In the development of websites, care is always taken to ensure these principles are well integrated into each project.

Table 1.1: Design Principles for an Aboriginal Community.




The geographical land is the foundation of Indigenous thinking. They have a strong respect for the land, as well as for their culture and language (Auld 2007).


Even among non-tribal Aboriginals there exists a deep emotional relationship with the bush country (Lewis 1976, p. 254)


Familiar images of concrete things, that are understood and loved, constitute the key communication device and form a text in themselves. The use of local pictures and images of people is essential (Williams 2002).


Spatial aspects like location are especially significant (Turk & Trees 1998).


Inclusion of cultural values and beliefs where appropriate (e.g., importance of the extended family, less emphasis on the assumption of a nuclear family) (Fleer 1989).


Include familiar content (e.g., Australian animals) and familiar life experiences (e.g., hunting, family) (Fleer 1989).


In an Aboriginal community, family life and children always come before individual pursuits (Gibb 2006).


Aboriginal peoples approach to communication is an advantage when entering an online environment. Indigenous peoples show a particular interest in authentic expression and representation, as well as moving with apparent ease into visual and aural areas of expertise. (Clemens 2002)


Singing and dancing are often used to teach in the traditional Aboriginal teaching situations (Fischer 1995).


Use of stories, songs and images to pass on the message (Remedio 1996).


In Aboriginal knowledge traditions, language, ceremony, singing, dancing and other representational forms can influence events and cause real world events to happen. Objects and phenomena can be ‘sung’ or ‘talked’ into and out of existence. (Pumpa, Wyeld & Adkins 2006, p. 811).


Aboriginal students prefer simple, ‘straight to the point’ and easy to read English (Gibb 2006).


There may be the use of icons that provide an alternative form of language (Munn 1973).


The user should be able to ‘perform knowledge, which is to actively participate in knowledge construction, rather than merely accessing and manipulating what is provided’ (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006, p. 240).


Provide multimedia rich environments rather than texts based ones and incorporate a range of audio and visual techniques to encourage usage. (Fischer 1995; Buchtmann 2000).


There is a preference for real-time communication (Clemens 2002).


There are areas where the full significance of Indigenous knowledge or awareness cannot be represented (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006).


Students ‘… needed to have an interpersonal relationship with the instructor and the other learners; when this was missing, they were reluctant to participate’ (Johnston 2001, p. 81).


Plan for change and provide the scope of redesigning as the needs of the target groups change (Clemens 2002).


Internet technology enhances communication with Indigenous communities. (Clemens 2002)


Respected teachers or elders are typically used to impart knowledge (Trudgen 1983).


Navigation by images is preferred over navigation linked to words (Williams 2002).


Table 1.2: Issues in the Design Process for an Aboriginal Community.




Stories about research and particularly researchers (the human carriers of research) were intertwined with stories about all other forms of colonisation and injustice (Tuhiwia-Smith 1999)


The need for community involvement in the design process, resulting in traditional norms being maintained (elders passing on the knowledge), cultural sensitivity, and appropriate content and emphasis (Fleer 1989).


The design process needs to be seen as a social process, as well as a technical one as these best match Aboriginal cultural expectations (Turk & Trees 1998).


Aboriginal knowledge exists as a self-contained knowledge tradition, radically separate ontologically and epistemologically from Eurocentric knowledge traditions (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006, p. 810)


Consultation with Indigenous artists and representatives from the country to ensure that the program has been designed correctly. (Pumpa, Wyeld 2006, p. 240)


Plan for change and provide the scope of redesigning as the needs of the target groups change (Clemens 2002).


Final results need to be disseminated back to the people in culturally appropriate ways and in a language that can be understood (Tuhiwia-Smith 1999)


Discrimination could be claimed if ‘… a flexible delivery method does not cater for a particular disability or cultural difference’ (Mcfarlane & Fuller 2001 p. 92).


Avoid the mistaken notion that Indigenous culture is monolithic (Dyson 2002).


The usage of Aboriginal knowledge without permission ‘…is treated as theft and recognized to be highly subversive of the traditional gerontocratic social structure’ (Butchman 2000, p. 63).


Storytelling is an integral part of Aboriginal culture (Somerville et a. 2010)



Auld, G 2007, ‘Talking books for children's home use in a minority Indigenous Australian language context’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 48-67.

Buchtmann, L 2000, ‘Digital Songlines: The Use of Modern Communication Technology by an Aboriginal Community in Remote Australia’, Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 59-74.

Clemens, L 2002, ‘Billabong: Indigenous Considerations in Website Design’, Proceedings of The Eighth Australian World Wide Web Conference, Twin Waters Resort, Queensland.

Dyson, LE 2002, ‘Design For A Culturally Affirming Indigenous Computer Literacy Course’, Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Auckland, New Zealand.

Fischer, RA 1995, Protohistoric Roots Of The Network Self: On Wired Aborigines And The Emancipation From Alphabetic Imperialism, Zurich.

Fleer, M 1989, ‘Reflecting Indigenous Culture in Educational Software Design’, Journal of Reading, vol. 32, no. 7, pp. 611-619, International Reading Association.

Gibb, H 2006, ‘Distance Education and the Issue of Equity Online: Exploring the Perspectives of Rural Aboriginal Students’, The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 35, pp. 21-29.

Johnston, TL 2001, ‘Experiences of Female Students Completing A Full-Time Aboriginal Program by Computer-Mediated Communication’, Master’s Thesis, Lakehead University.

Lewis, D 1976, ‘Observations on Route Finding and Spatial Orientation among the Aboriginal Peoples of the Western Desert Region of Central Australia’, Oceania, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 249-282, Oceania Publications, University of Sydney.

McFarlane, P & Fuller, A 2001, ‘Equity issues in E-education’, Journal of Law, Information and Science, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 87-95.

Munn, N 1973, Walbiri Iconography: Graphic Representation and Cultural Symbolism in Central Australian Society, Cornell University Press, London.

Pumpa, M, & Wyeld, TG 2006, ‘Database and Narratological Representation of Australian Aboriginal Knowledge as Information Visualisation using a Game Engine’, Proceedings of the 10th International IEEE Conference on Information Visualisation, 5-7 July, London, UK.

Pumpa, M, Wyeld, TG & Adkins, B 2006, ‘Performing Traditional Knowledge using a Game Engine: Communicating and Sharing Australian Aboriginal Knowledge Practices’, Proceedings of the 6th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, 5-7 July, Kerkrade, The Netherlands.

Remedio, J 1996, ‘Chairperson of the National Indigenous Media Association’, cited in Buchtmann, L 2000, ‘Digital Songlines: The Use of Modern Communication Technology by an Aboriginal Community in Remote Australia’, Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 59-74.

Somerville, C, Somerville, K & Wyld F 2010, ‘Martu storytellers: Aboriginal narratives within the academy’, Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 39, pp. 96-101.

Trudgen, RI 1983, Aboriginal traditional economic system in Central and East Arnhemland, Northern Regional Council of Congress, Darwin.

Tuhiwai-Smith, L 1999, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Zed Books, London.

Turk, A & Trees, K 1998, ‘Culture and Participation in the Development of CMC: Indigenous Cultural Information System Case Study’, Proceedings of Cultural Attitudes Towards Communication and Technology, 1-3 August, University of Sydney, Australia.

Williams, M 2002, Reach In - Reach Out: A journey starts with a good idea, viewed 10 October 2010, <http://tinyurl.com/74fyhy7>.


Copyright © Reece George