“Design for the Real World” is one of the most important book for Industrial Designers


Image source: Cody Thompson

I started reading Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek a few days ago and after spending a lot of time thinking about the philosophy on which the book is written is something which makes so much sense in the present time. Designers who are thinking of doing something meaningful and who are on a quest to make sense of the world should give this book a read. It encompasses a lot of topics ranging from sustainability to bionics, disability to transportation, pedagogy to ethics, mass manufacturing to planned obsolescence and a lot more. Numerous examples have been given and a few methodologies have been discussed along with a couple of diagrams.

I have been thinking about the way industrial design is being practiced for a long time and have formed an ideology of my own and after reading this book, the same ideology has been reinforced.

Since the industrial revolution the aim of industry has been to produce high quality good at a lower price and it has changed the very way we live our lives. Industrial Design has played a major role in making the dreams of millions and millions of people a reality. So, what is Industrial Design?

“Industrial design is a process of design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production. Its key characteristic is that design is separated from manufacture: the creative act of determining and defining a product’s form and features takes place in advance of the physical act of making a product, which consists purely of repeated, often automated, replication. This distinguishes industrial design from craft-based design, where the form of the product is determined by the product’s creator at the time of its creation. All manufactured products are the result of a design process, but the nature of this process can take many forms: it can be conducted by an individual or a large team; it can emphasize intuitive creativity or calculated scientific decision-making, and often emphasizes both at the same time; and it can be influenced by factors as varied as materials, production processes, business strategy and prevailing social, commercial or aesthetic attitudes. The role of an industrial designer is to create and execute design solutions for problems of form, function, usability, physical ergonomics, marketing, brand development, sustainability, and sales.” -Wikipedia

There are a few things which come to my mind when I think about Industrial design or design in general and also the book in some way or the other is questioning these points.

  • Is industrial design really about the art or the process of designing manufactured products?
  • Is industrial design concerned about making things beautiful, low cost, mass manufactured, consumerism, and planned obsolescence?
  • Or is it something more than that, something which is more fundamental in nature?
  • Is following a predefined process (called design process a lot of time) and coming up with the product the only approach to Industrial Design?
  • In the present scenario of customized user dictated market is there actually a need to differentiate Industrial Design from Crafts?
  • Is industrial design about making sense of the world we live in?
  • What are the ethical implications of industrial design?
  • Is industrial design in the present day only about making renders and intangible artefacts, which will remain just as bits of information in the system or is it about making artefacts which people can interact with or have associations with?
  • What role does technology plays in the evolution of industrial design?
  • What can industrial design take from school of thought of D.I.Y, Maker Movement, Open Source, Sustainability, Redistributed Manufacturing and Digital Fabrication?
  • Can an industrial designer afford to create and stylize for the 5% of the world population when the rest don’t have access to basic necessities?
  • Is the role of an industrial designer just constricted to creating and executing design solutions? Can they be a part of a bigger system responsible for knowledge creation and sharing?
  • How important is a systemic way of data, information and knowledge creation?
  • Has design education just become a commercial entity which seems to teach too much design, and not enough about ecological, social, economic, and political environment in which design takes place.
  • Is the purpose of education is to be a process in which the environment changes the learner, and the learner in turn changes the environment?
  • Is a design school degree only meant to provide a safe job? Or it’s purpose is to bring in change in the individual, the environment and the ecology.
  • Should Kymmenykset (Finnish equivalent of Tithe) concept of giving one-tenth of the working time of designers towards social problem be made part of the school curriculum and of practice in design firms?

After reading the book, there is this one thing which really stands out which Victor states

Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical in the truest sense. It must dedicate itself to nature’s principle of least effort, in other words, maximum diversity with minimum inventory or doing the most with the least. That means consuming less, using things longer and being frugal about recycling material.

I’m going to try to explore some of the above mentioned points with a group of design students over a period of few days and build an understanding of where do we stand when it comes to practicing Industrial Design.


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