Books, Design, Philosophy


Special thanks to all the people who gave me the opportunity to make designs for causes I believe in.
My wish is to have more opportunities like these in the future.


Design for the real world PDF

Victor Papanek is a UNESCO International Design Expert and Dean of the School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts. He studied at Cooper Union in New York, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and with the late Frank Lloyd Wright. In North America he has taught at the Ontario College of Art, the State University of New York, the Rhode Island School of Design, Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, and Purdue University in Indiana.

Professor Papanek has specialized for many years in design for the handicapped, the Third World, the sick, the poor, and people in need. He has taught and travelled in seven countries, and lived with an Eskimo tribe as well as with the Hopi Indians of the American South West. With James Hennessey, he is co-author of the recently published Nomadic Furniture.

There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly 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. Never before in history have grown men sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered file boxes, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people. Before (in the ‘good old days’), if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal-mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are taught carefully to young people.

In an age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer. It also demands greater understanding of the people by those who practise design and more insight into the design process by the public. Not a single volume on the responsibility of the designer, no book on design that considers the public in this way, has ever been published anywhere.

In February 1968, Fortune magazine published an article that foretold the end of the industrial design profession. Predictably, designers reacted with scorn and alarm. But I feel that the main arguments of the Fortune article are valid. It is about time that industrial design, as we have come to know it, should cease to exist. As long as design concerns itself with confecting trivial ‘toys for adults’, killing machines with gleaming tailfins, and ‘sexed-up’ shrouds for typewriters, toasters, telephones, and computers, it has lost all reason to exist.

Design must become an innovative, highly creative, cross- disciplinary tool responsive to the true needs of men. It must be more researchoriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly-designed objects and structures. For the last ten years or so, I have worked with designers and student design teams in many parts of the world. Whether on an island in Finland, in a village school in Indonesia, an airconditioned office overlooking Tokyo, a small fishing village in Norway, or where I teach in the United States, I have tried to give a clear picture of what it means to design within a social context. But there is only so much one can say and do, and even in Marshall McLuhan’s electronic era, sooner or later one must fall back on the printed word.

Included in the enormous amount of literature we have about design are hundreds of ‘how-to-do-it’ books that address themselves exclusively to an audience of other designers or (with the gleam of textbook sales in the author’s eye) to students. The social context of design, as well as the public and lay reader, is damned by omission.

Looking at the books on design in seven languages, covering the walls of my home, I realized that the one book I wanted to read, the one book I most wanted to hand to my fellow students and designers, was missing. Because our society makes it crucial for designers to understand clearly the social, economic, and political background of what they do, my problem was not just one of personal frustration. So I decided to write the kind of book that I’d like to read.

This book is written from the viewpoint that there is some- thing basically wrong with the whole concept of patents and copyrights. If I design a toy that provides therapeutic exercise for handicapped children, then I think it is unjust to delay the release of the design by a year and a half, going through a patent application. I feel that ideas are plentiful and cheap, and it is wrong to make money from the needs of others. I have been very lucky in persuading many of my students to accept this view. Much of what you will find as design examples throughout this book has never been patented. In fact, quite the opposite strategy prevails: in many cases students and I have made measured drawings of, say, a play environment for blind children, written a description of how to build it simply, and then mimeographed drawings and all. If any agency, anywhere, will write in, my students will send them all the instructions free of charge. I try to do the same myself. An actual case history may explain this principle better.

Shortly after leaving school nearly two decades ago, I designed a coffee table based on entirely new concepts of structure and assembly. I gave a photograph and drawings of the table to the magazine Sunset, which printed it as a do-it-yourself project in the February 1953 issue. Almost at once a Southern California furniture firm, Modern Colour, Inc., ‘ripped-off’ the design and went into production. Admittedly they sold about eight thousand tables in 1953. But now it is 1970. Modern Colour has long since gone bankrupt, but Sunset recently reprinted the design in their book Furniture You can Build, so people are still building the table for themselves.

Thomas Jefferson himself entertained grave doubts as to the philosophy inherent in a patent grant. At the time of his invention of the hempbreak, he took positive steps to prevent being granted a patent and wrote to a friend: ‘Something of this kind has been so long wanted by cultivators of hemp that as soon as I can speak of its effect with certainty, I shall probably describe it anonymously in the public papers in order to forestall the prevention of its use by some interloping patentee.’

I hope this book will bring new thinking to the design process and start an intelligent dialogue between designer and consumer. It is organized into two parts, each six chapters long. The first part, ‘Like It Is’, attempts to define and criticize design as it is practised and taught today. The six chapters of ‘How It Could Be’ give the reader at least one newer way of looking at things in each chapter.

All men are designers. All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity. The planning and patterning of any act towards a desired, foreseeable end constitutes the design process. Any attempt to separate design, to make it a thing-by-itself, works counter to the inherent value, of design as the primary underlying matrix of life. Design is com- posing an epic poem, executing a mural, painting a masterpiece, writing a concerto. But design is also cleaning and reorganizing a desk drawer, pulling an impacted tooth, baking an apple pie, choosing sides for a back-lot baseball game, and educating a child. Design is the conscious effort to impose meaningful order.