Critical analysis

Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek
pages 131 – 133

Design for the real world by Victor Papanek is a superb source of information in my opinion. The vast bibliography in the back of the book helps the book keeps its authoritative strength while the knowledge of the author is clearly expansive. In particular i choose this book mainly for its subject matter, “Design for the real world” is often referred to by a different name in todays design culture and its referred to as “User centred design” Designing for people needs and not invented people wants.

I chose this section of the book because Papanek makes a bold claim that i feel 5050 about in my personal opinion. Although the whole book makes this statement, he does summarise it in this section and presents an issue not about how design is weak but rather how the designer must expand their thinking. But the counter to this is always going to be “Time”. A degree to a Ba level is 5 years including college now we have to include all the extra fields too? The price to pay to be a jack of all trades may well be too high and with no real suggestion of how someone can realistically do this then the book, in theory, is only half the story.

“Designers and students have to familiarise themselves with many other fields and, by knowing them, redefine the relevance of the designer to our society”
I find this statement fascinating, this was a comment from 1973 about the designers role in society and in reality its possible that its only starting to become a more realised dream in the most recent years. Recently i went to a “Design for global health” conference by the Royal society of medicine, and in that confer the whole aim was to show medics and medical professionals why using designers and designer thinking is vital to tackling problems. And on the flip side there were phD students from Kings college London and Matt Hunt from the Design Council showing how the designers can  and should use more empathetic research methods to learn about the problem as a whole and to learn about the environment around the problem thus helping to build a better solution.

Another passage i find interesting is “Too many blocks can effectually stop problem solving” This statement attacks education, education is telling children what not to do more than what they can do as such they are putting blocks in the way.
Years ago Sir Ken Robinson hosted a TED talk about how we are educating creativity out of children in this exact way. As a designer who also works with children, i find this topic actually very important as creativity is a difficult element to teach, instead we should foster it and grow it, so are we potentially stunting our own creative industry? Equally I find it amazing that the same statement 40 odd years on is still heavily relevant.

In this section Papanek puts forward a quite damning but well put together debate about how almost everystep of the way our education system and even our society hinders and almost disproves of problem solvers. the three main arguments for this debate are
– Designers should move to open their minds and becomes knowledgeable in many ares rather than just design
– Our education system is built in such a way we are educating creativity out of children
– Papanek also suggests that our own society as a whole also moves to discredit anyone who doesn’t conform with mainstream thinking, and then suggests that actually being a creative problem solver is all about not accepting the generic norm as being best practice.

Professor Victor Papanek was a UNESCO International Design expert working with not only UNESCO but also with the WHO. He tutored all over America and in his later years Papanek was a Dean of the school of Design in California. With all this experience and some amazing names he alongside side its clear Papanek is an incredibly experience and authoritative figure in design.

The iPhone X, street signs in London, modern microwaves, just some of the examples of poor user centred design. The iPhone x, a massively pricey phone with no real new gadgetry became a hot item that many wanted so badly, yet the price stung. We do have to question if Apple creating a new high price item in their range, instead of a cheaper one, is socially responsible knowing the strength they hold in the market. A common complaint in London but also across Britain is signage that makes no sense. Signage that overloads people too quickly is incredibly confusing and when people inevitable get it wrong, they are then hit by a fine or in some cases have lost their car. The information overload created by the signage isn’t user friendly at all and the sinister aspect is wether this is intentional or not, considering that fines and charges do raise money for the councils. Microwaves may sound like a joke however with thousands of buttons and no real clear instruction, it can feel like you need a degree and good luck to get a meal cooked properly. These are just some of the examples of how user centred design or socially responsible design have been ignored and we find all three of this being the target of constant controversy and complaint, yet if this book had influenced them in the beginning i believe very different designs would have been made. 

The text works to inform and inspire designers to become more user centred and more socially responsible. Using historical examples alongside his own tutoring examples gives a strong indication of this was his philosophy that lived and died by. By breaking down the topical issues and the methods, the book becomes a bit by bit guide into becoming a socially responsible designer, backing each chapter up with examples and references, this book provides strong manual into this world. By using nothing but theories and examples to prove the theory, the book builds a diagram of the only the theory and not the of practical side, because of this the book can create a feeling of displacement, i find my self questioning “okay i understand but what if…” instead of finding inspiration to utilise things i see. Your left with the instructions but not the parts.

Design is invariably broken. This feel like the statement that book makes, by suggesting that designers need to move this way it also suggests that designers aren’t near there. Although this book was first written in 1971, i find that its message is still valuable in todays ages with user centred design still being talked about like its an exotic new field when actually its decades old. The message in this book should be applied whole heartedly across the industry and luckily some industries are starting to listen with the medical industry starting to explorer design thinking but also governmental departments wanting to use designers for thinking as well. The legacy of this book is questionable mind, good as the book is in my mind, it hasn’t made a lasting impact. In university we hear about a lot of book such as smile in the mind and Know you Onions but we don’t hear about this one. I feel that this book is an academic book but is being aimed at students who already have plenty of books and papers to read and thus gets lost so what about industry members? Well that can be answered in a simple way, when working full time what time is there to read this?