Why social sensitivity is so important in the design profession?

In the second half of the 20th century, the systematic and environmentally friendly designers emphasized the contents of basic needs and the depth of thought so much that the form itself was often despised. Victor Papanek, who published his must have book in the subject called Design for the real world, was the greatest spokesman of this extremist tending trend. In the beginning his principles and publications caused negative echo – many accused him of expiring the design business. However, later when he attracted great publicity, professional bodies were motivated to change their standpoint. On my part, in the topic of social and eco-conscious design, I agree with him on most of the questions. One of his realized plans’ case studies demonstrates his approach best. In the 60’s he designed on commission for ethnical groups of developing countries that were illiterate or rather not knowing such facts, that for example they were the citizens of India. The villages’ lack of energy for radio and the lack of money for creating power supplies isolated the people from any kinds of news dispatch or information.

For this reason he designed a transistor radio – especially for developing countries – that did not consume nor wired electricity, neither battery and was made of a used tin. The burning of a wax saturated swaddle ensured the energy which was converted to electricity by a thermo battery inside the radio. They could use the radio for at least one year without replacing the burning fluid if they used it for listening to the ‘national news’ (around 5 minutes) every day. The total production cost of the radio did not reach 9 US cents. When in 1966 Papanek held a presentation at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm about his plan and a lot of people offended him because of the ugliness of the radio (the people in Ulm said that he could have at least painted the tin grey), he answered the following: “it would have been a mistake to paint the tin as then for example the price of all pieces would have increased by 1/20 of a penny which is a huge amount in case of millions of radios. On the other hand, and I feel this as of primary importance, my opinion is that I do not have any right to coerce aesthetically or as a matter of taste millions of Indonesian people who represent an absolutely different culture. Indonesians started decorating their tin-radios. They glued on them colorful pieces of felt, paper, glass and seashells or by drilling little holes they “drew” on them. Via this, good taste was allowed to be in the authority of the people and we ensured them to be able to “redesign” the radio by themselves.” This led me to the opinion that it is important to give objects to people that match them and fit into their culture, rather than objects that can be adored, such as fashion objects. I was inspired by Papanek’s thoughts of ecological and social design during the designing process of Flow public lighting and Gris greywater system.

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Related entries:

Flow lamp – public light for the Third World

Gris water saving system designed by Alberto Vasquez, founder of IgenDesign

Gris water saving system designed by Alberto Vasquez, founder of IgenDesign

Ecological thinking isn't necessary?

Ecological thinking isn’t necessary?


3 thoughts on “Why social sensitivity is so important in the design profession?

  1. Pingback: How can you save 80 liter of water per day at home and save at least 1.5 billion liter water for your country? | igendesign – design and innovation consultants

  2. Great post, I am studying product design at the moment and I decided that I wanted to try and design a radio for the third world. The main restrictions of my design is that it has to be cheap and it has to use majority recycled materials. I also wanted to design it so it would fit into ant culture easily and this has given me a few ideas of how to do this. Thanks.

  3. This quote reminds me of Joseph Beuys’ notion that “eveyone is an artist”. Like Papanek, Beuys lectured extensively and was interested in ecology and green politics. Perhaps there is some scope here to integrate design and art towards an new model of architechture characterised by a radical, personalised individuality
    where the viewer/radio listener becomes part of the work/design object itself…

    I am writing the introduction to a book about Papanek due for release in 2013 with Phaidon, I would greatly appreciate any more thoughts…

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