- Oct 2021
Victor Papanek’s Design Problem, 1975.
The Design Problem
Three diagrams will explain the lack of social engagement in design. If (in Figure 1) we equate the triangle with a design problem, we readily see that industry and its designers are concerned only with the tiny top portion, without addressing themselves to real needs.
(Design for the Real World, 2019. Page 57.)
The other two figures merely change the caption for the figure.
- Figure 1: The Design Problem
- Figure 2: A Country
- Figure 3: The World
In ecology, edge effects are changes in population or community structures that occur at the boundary of two or more habitats. Areas with small habitat fragments exhibit especially pronounced edge effects that may extend throughout the range. As the edge effects increase, the boundary habitat allows for greater biodiversity.
It was in the Design Science Studio that I learned about edge effects.
Yesterday, I was thinking about how my life embodies the concept of edge effects. That same day, a book was delivered to our door, Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek.
Today, I was reading these words:
Design for the Real World
Design for Survival and Survival through Design: A Summation
Integrated, comprehensive, anticipatory design is the act of planning and shaping carried on across the various disciplines, an act continuously carried on at interfaces between them.
Victor Papanek goes on to say:
It is at the border of different techniques or disciplines that most new discoveries are made and most action is inaugurated. It is when two differing areas of knowledge are brought into contact with one another that… a new science may come into being.
Exiles and Emigrés
The Bauhaus spread its ideas because it existed at the boundaries, the avant-garde, the edges of what was thought to be possible, especially as a socialist utopian idea found its way to a capitalist industrial-military complex, where the concept of modernism was co-opted and colonized by globalizing economic forces beyond the control of the individual. Design was the virus that propagated around the world through the vehicle of corporate globalization.
That same design ethic is infecting corporations with a conscience, with empathy, with a process that begins with listening to people. Design is the virus that can spread the values of unconditional love throughout the body of neoliberal capitalism.
Design for the Real World
You have to make up your mind either to make sense or to make money, if you want to be a designer.
— R. Buckminster Fuller
Design for the Real World
by Victor Papanek
Papanek on the Bauhaus
Many of the “sane design” or “design reform” movements of the time, such as those engendered by the writings and teachings of William Morris in England and Elbert Hubbard in the United States, were rooted in a sort of Luddite antimachine philosophy. By contrast Frank Llloyd Wright said as early as 1894 that “the machine is here to stay” and that the designer should “use this normal tool of civilization to best advantage instead of prostituting it as he has hitherto done in reproducing with murderous ubiquity forms born of other times and other conditions which it can only serve to destroy.” Yet designers of the last century were either perpetrators of voluptuous Victorian-Baroque or members of an artsy-craftsy clique who were dismayed by machine technology. The work of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Austria and the German Werkbund anticipated things to come, but it was not until Walter Gropius founded the German Bauhaus in 1919 that an uneasy marriage between art and machine was achieved.
No design school in history had greater influence in shaping taste and design than the Bauhaus. It was the first school to consider design a vital part of the production process rather than “applied art” or “industrial arts.” It became the first international forum on design because it drew its faculty and students from all over the world, and its influence traveled as these people later founded design offices and schools in many countries. Almost every major design school in the United States today still uses the basic foundation course developed by the Bauhaus. It made good sense in 1919 to let a German 19-year-old experiment with drill press and circular saw, welding torch and lathe, so that he might “experience the interaction between tool and material.” Today the same method is an anachronism, for an American teenager has spent much of his life in a machine-dominated society (and cumulatively probably a great deal of time lying under various automobiles, souping them up). For a student whose American design school slavishly imitates teaching patterns developed by the Bauhaus, computer sciences and electronics and plastics technology and cybernetics and bionics simply do not exist. The courses the Bauhaus developed were excellent for their time and place (telesis), but American schools following this pattern in the eighties are perpetuating design infantilism.
The Bauhaus was in a sense a nonadaptive mutation in design, for the genes contributing to its convergence characteristics were badly chosen. In boldface type, it announced its manifesto: “Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all turn to the crafts.… Let us create a new guild of craftsmen!” The heavy emphasis on interaction between crafts, art, and design turned out to be a blind alley. The inherent nihilism of the pictorial arts of the post-World War I period had little to contribute that would be useful to the average, or even to the discriminating, consumer. The paintings of Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, et al., on the other hand, had no connection whatsoever with the anemic elegance some designers imposed on products.
Victor Papanek’s book includes an introduction written by R. Buckminster Fuller, Carbondale, Illinois. (Sadly, the Thames & Hudson 2019 Third Edition does not include this introduction. Monoskop has preserved this text as a PDF file of images. I have transcribed a portion here.)