Readings | Design For The Real World | Week 1

Wednesday, February 6th 2019, 6:47:36 pm

While reading Chapter 4 of “Design For The Real World” by Victor Papanek, a few observations came to my mind about design’s role in the world.

First of all, from his annecdote about Mr. G I got to thinking about a design’s impact on the local / global economy. One small design decision, for example adding a particular component to a radio, could require factories and workers and resources to be aligned just right to support the designed object’s mass-production. Though the author obviously pokes fun at the absurdity of Mr. G’s exact example, it does well to make the reader aware of the “impact” of specific design decisions for objects that are to be mass-produced.

Second, his example about keyboard ergonomics and market forces showed me why certain poor design choices persist. Sometimes, I like to complain and poke fun at an ergonomically failing product (such as a keyboard, like in his example) and wonder why these issues were not fixed. However, Papanek’s piece illustrated how market forces such as “the competitive market for small computers” actually incentivize poor design choices to an extent.

Finally, his passage about the actual ineffectiveness of safety goggles worried me a bit. There is a bit of “security theater”, as it’s called, with certain designs. Designed and branded as “safe”, but knowingly limited in safety is a worrisome side of manufacturers’ choices about what design flaws they choose to fix or leave.

Though in isolation, these insights made by the Papnek’s article are amusing, taken together, I’m left with two conclusions:

  1. The design of an object, impacts the world in small, yet significant ways.
  2. Poor design can be dangerous and yet go uncorrected.

Omar Delarosa avatar

Written by Omar Delarosa who lives in Brooklyn and builds things using computers.

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