Excerpts of Papanek’s ‘Design for the Real World’

I am doing my second reading of Papanek’s Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, simultaneous to my first steps on the research for my thesis project, which I will develop throughout the coming year (Sep 2012 – Jun 2013). Here I will leave some quotes and notes on the book that I find interesting and/or relevant for my project.

(PREFACE) There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them.  And only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second.

(CHAPTER 3: THE MYTH OF THE NOBLE SLOB) Much has been said about the decadence of Rome when the barbarians where outside the gate. There are no barbarians outside ours: we have become our own barbarians, and barbarism has become a do-it-yourself kit.

 (CHAPTER4: DO-IT-YOURSELF MURDER) Even if the corporate greed of many design offices makes this kind of design impossible, students should at least be encouraged to work in this manner (10% non-profit). For in showing students new areas of engagement, we may set up alternative patterns of thinking about design problems. We may help them to develop the kind of social and moral responsibility that is needed in design.

(…)What may be needed here is a designers’ commune. Most communes in this country have determinedly marched into the past. But baking bread, playing a guitar, weaving fabrics, and doing ceramics are not the only rational alternatives to a consumer society. Nor is the mind-blowing violence of a Charles Manson. With most of the communes poised in a choice between nihilism and nostalgia, a commune of planners and designers might prove to be the best alternative.

 (…)Souvenir-like objects are then manufactured, using native materials and skills, with the pious hope that they will sell in developed countries. They do, but for a short while only, for by designing ‘decorative objects for the home’ and ‘fashion accessories’, we merely tie the economy of that country to the economy of other countries. (…)Ideally: the designer would to the country and do all the things indicated above. But in addition, he would also train designers to train designers. In other words he would become a ‘seed project’ helping to form a corps of able designers out of the indigenous population of the country. Thus within one generation at most, five years at the least, he would be able to create a group of designers firmly committed to their own cultural heritage, their own life style, and their own needs. (…) Design itself must always be a seed project, always operative.

(CHAPTER 5: OUR KLEENEX CULTURE) That which we throw away, we fail to value. When we design and plan things to be discarded, we exercise insufficient care in designing or considering safety factors.

Property tax laws in many states are also helping to make the concept of ‘temporary use’  rather than ‘permanent ownership’ more palatable to the consumer public. (…) And the concept of being owned by things, rather than owning them, is becoming clear to our young people.

 (CHAPTER 6: SNAKE OIL AND THALIDOMIDE) In the United States, design is not overtly used in a political manner: rather, it unblushingly serves purely profit-oriented clients. But the implicit message of this design is one that caters almost exclusively to the wants of the upper middle class.

(…) In order to work more intelligently, the whole practice of design has to be turned around. Designer can no longer be employees of corporations, but rather must work directly for the client group -that is, the people who are in need of a product. 

(…) And this turnabout in the role of the designer can be accomplished. Our role is changing to that of a facilitator who can bring the needs of the people to the attention of manufacturing, government agencies, and the like. The designer then logically becomes no more (and no less) then a tool in the hands of the people.


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