Design for the Real World: Preface to the Second Edition


Dès 1983, à l’occasion d’un travail de réédition de « Design pour un monde réel », Victor Papanek (1923-1998) décide d’y apporter quelques conséquentes modifications sans vraiment s’en justifier. Si les changements concernent essentiellement des remaniements de chapitres, d’intitulés ou encore d’exemples pour réactualiser un propos qui a plus de dix ans, les modifications plus significatives tiennent dans la nouvelle préface de l’auteur. L’un des premiers remaniements qu’il opère dans cette réédition est la suppression de la préface de Richard Buckminster Fuller, décédé la même année. En effet, à partir de la seconde édition de son œuvre majeure, Victor Papanek n’a de cesse de souligner sa position divergente vis-à-vis de son ami alors qu’il ne fait aucun doute qu’il s’est d’abord conformé à ses idées avant de s’en distinguer. Texte proposé et présenté par Gwenaëlle Bertrand et Maxime Favard.

Design for the Real World was written between 1963 and 1970. Originally published in Sweden, some updating readied the manuscript for publication in the United States in 1971. During the following two years it appeared in England and in translation in Germany, Denmark, Italy, Finland, Yugoslavia, Japan, France, Spain, and Latin America. Since then it has been translated into twelve more languages, making it the most widely read book on design in the world. After more than a decade it seemed a good time to add new material that reflects a dynamically changed world and the reaction of a profession that is still slow to respond to change, to revise old material, and to explain the social and ethical roles of design more fully.

It is difficult to think oneself back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Design for the Real World was rejected by several publishers for using such unfamiliar concepts as “ecology,” “ethology,” or “the Third World.” Those were the days of The Greening of America, a book that falsely persuaded many that the average age of people in the United States was declining (the reverse is true), when the concept of unchecked growth was still advocated by the majority. Women’s rights, pollution, the “graying of America,” mass unemployment, extensive cutbacks in the automobile and steel industries in the United States, and the global race toward a thermonuclear Armageddon had still not been accepted as real by most people.

On its first American appearance, the ideas in this book were derided, made fun of, or savagely attacked by the design establishment. One professional design magazine printed a review that classified some of my suggestions, such as greater energy savings, the return to sailing ships and lighter-than-air craft, and research into alternative power sources, as “idiosyncratic pipedreams” and dismissed the book as “an attack on Detroit mixed with a utopian concern for minorities.” I was asked to resign from my professional organization in the United States, and, when the Centre Georges Pompidou planned an exhibition of American industrial design, my professional society threatened to boycott it if any of my work was included. The tin-can radio (see page 225) was especially ridiculed and earned me the title of “the Garbage Can Designer.”

Design for the Real World appeared in most European bookstores together with two other books, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and my good friend Fritz Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful. There is an important communality among these three volumes. Toffler lucidly describes an ever changing future and how we might make our peace with continuous change. But the possibility of reversing the increasing mechanization of mankind (’… a variable environment demands flexible behavior and reverses the trend to its mechanization," says Arthur Koestler) was not fully grasped by Toffler. Schumacher saw this more clearly and agreed with my own formulation that nothing big works.

Maybe we learn best from disasters. Detroit is floundering in high unemployment, and, with three oil crises, four unusually cold winters, two major droughts leading to water shortages, extensive floods, a global energy shortage, and a major recession behind us, this book has been slowly accepted even in the United States over the last thirteen years. Besides being bought by consumers, it has become a required text in design and architectural schools and is now used in anthropology, behavioral science, English, and industrial-management courses at many universities.

For the second edition several chapters of Design for the Real World have been rewritten entirely. All chapters have been updated and much new material has been added. I decided to retain many of the predictions I made in the first edition. Some of the things I stated in 1970 are by now embarrassingly wide of the mark. Others have become true in the intervening thirteen years, and both outcomes are discussed. Still other predictions I made in 1970 are just now on the point of becoming reality: simpler packaging, energy saving devices and alternative power sources, ecological understanding, the return to sailing ships (although now with computer-steered rigging), the reemergence of lighter-than-air craft. Other forecasts still await fulfillment. What I wrote about U.S. automobiles has become all too true – with disastrous consequences for millions of workers and their arrogant bosses in Detroit – but the same rethinking in the field of housing is long overdue. We have learned to think of large cars as gas-guzzlers; similarly we must learn to see our homes as the space-guzzlers they are. With high energy costs for heating and air conditioning, large houses, enormous glass walls, or guest rooms that stand unused most of the time are no longer feasible.

Most of the original pictures and diagrams have been retained; in some cases new illustrations have been added to make a point more clear. I draw the reader’s attention to a revision of my definition of design (see Chapter One). The Bibliography has been brought up to date and expanded.

In 1971 I moved to Northern Europe and have lived and worked there, with lengthy tours of duty to developing countries, for some years. Much of what I wrote about design for the Third World in this book’s first edition now seems somewhat naive. Nonetheless I have decided to let some of my observations stand in the second edition because they illustrate the somewhat patronizing viewpoint many of us had about the poorer countries more than a decade ago. While we fought against colonialism and exploitation, I and others failed to appreciate how much we could learn in the places we had set out to teach. While mass housing designed and built by young Scandinavian designers in Nigeria stands unused and unusable, these same young people have learned important lessons about how housing patterns can serve extended families, develop neighborliness, or cement social ties into strong and lasting communities. The road between the rich nations of the North and the poor southern half of the globe is a two-way street. It is reassuring to understand that designers in the Third World can solve their own problems free from interference by “experts” imported for two weeks.

Still, some facts are devastating: more than three times as many people live in the Third World as in developed countries. They earn, on average, less than one-tenth of the income of the people of the rich nations; their life expectancy is only half that of those in the North. They can spend only three cents (per capita) on public health to every dollar spent in the developed world, and every dollar spent per capita in the North on education is matched by only six and one-half cents in the Third World. Even these bare statistics cannot begin to tell the story of disease, malnutrition, starvation, and despair that stalks the lives of 2.6 billion people in the poor nations.

Two classes of reason are usually advanced for why we in the technologically developed part of the world ought to help those in need. One of these classes relates to our own security, the other is ethical.

The primary security argument is fallacious: the fear that more than three billion people will attack us in our homes – a sort of apocalyptic reprise of the ghetto uprisings in the 1960s but on a global scale – is absurd. Even the most developed countries find modern warfare too expensive.

Some people – no doubt worried by recent immigration from Nicaragua, Haiti, Vietnam, and so forth – are actually afraid that millions of people from the poor countries will move North. This second “security” argument is as wrongheaded as the first. People in all countries (poor or rich) are tied to their culture and native soil in many ways and have no strong motivation to become exiles in a strange society.

There are valid ethical and moral reasons to help the poor countries. On a pragmatic level, a world of shrinking distances, fast air travel, and instant global communication cannot afford to have three-fourths of its inhabitants diseased, starving, or dying from neglect. The ethics of the situation are clear: we are all citizens of one global village and we have an obligation to those in need. How to bring our philosophical and moral reasoning to bear on the widening economic distance between North and South is an issue simultaneously pressing and complex. We now know that throwing money, food, or supplies at an underdeveloped country doesn’t work. Neither does the wholesale export of “turnkey factories” or “instant technical experts.” The experiences of Soviet aid to China, U.S. developmental programs in Iran, Chinese help to Tanzania, and Cuban intervention in Angola – to name but a few examples – have made that clear.

Massive foreign financial intervention could not eliminate poverty in India – conversely the lack of such aid helped China. In 1956 Mao Tse-tung established a policy of “regeneration through our own efforts” in the People’s Republic of China. The results were far-reaching social changes and, most importantly, a change in the consciousness of the people, which led to education and the development of autonomous, decentralized solutions.

It is a curious paradox that those “poor” countries most emphatic in their call for aid are materially rich. Their wealth resides in natural resources and, in the southern half of the globe, enormous sources of alternative energy. It is south of the equator that solar power can be tapped most easily. It is there that geothermal power, biomass conversion, and alternative fuels (Brazil runs nearly eighty percent of its cars on alcohol derived from sugar cane) can be found. The desert regions present the greatest opportunities for heat-exchange-based energy, with temperatures varying by as much as forty degrees between night and day. Again it is the southern half of the globe where tropical rainfalls are predictable and where wind power is strongest.

Aid to developing countries engenders the hatred a cripple feels toward his crutch. What is needed is cooperation that works both ways, a strong movement to restrict the financial and systems dependence of poor countries. A tough reappraisal by both sides is long overdue. Outsiders can make education and the pharmacology of birth control available, but population control must emerge from the will of the people themselves. Self-reliance is a basic-training course that each people must go through on its own.

There is much we in turn can learn from developing countries about living patterns, small-scale technology, reuse and recycling of materials, and a closer fit between man and nature. Nonwestern medicine and social organization are other fields we can explore cooperatively.

The Soviet Union, the United States, and Japan have this in common: they attempt to sell and impose their present state of development on the poor countries. It is a bad fit. The United States and Russia have reached their present stages of development through many years of identity building, education and self-reliance. The cliché “You don’t band a loaded gun to a baby” is apt in this circumstance. It makes no sense to hand a fully automated factory to a country with an untrained, labor-intensive economy or rock television stations and Star Wars video games to a preliterate society.

My experience over the last thirteen years has shown me that autonomy and self-reliance are being realized in the Third World. The “Establishment” together with its tame experts and a small power elite that has been trained abroad may still pray for salvation from the International Monetary Fund – but the people in the villages, farmers, workers, designers, and innovators in the Third World are increasingly coming to realize that poverty is not destiny but a challenge that can be faced successfully.

The original dedication in this book, “This volume is dedicated to my students, for what they have taught me,” still stands. But I would like to dedicate this revised edition also to designers, architects, farmers, workers, young people, and students in Brazil, Cameroun, Chad, Colombia, Greenland, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yugoslavia with whom I have worked and who demonstrated to me that poverty is the mother of innovation. Examples of this are given throughout this book.

The developing countries and all the rest of us must cooperate by combining simpler and small-scale approaches with new technologies, which for the first time make decentralized and human-size development feasible. The poor in the developing world, together with the poor and handicapped in the rich nations and with all those of us who must make wiser choices about the tools, systems, and artifacts we make and use, form one global constituency. The challenge lies in together exploring all functions appropriate to the last years of this century. Out of this exciting search for the interplay between beauty, cultures, and design alternatives will come a new and sensuous frugality.

Penang (Malaysia) - Dartington Hall, Devon – Bogotá (Colombia), 1981-1984

Design for the Real World: Human ecology and social change, seconde édition complètement révisée avec 121 illustrations. Londres : Thames & Hudson, 1984. © 2019 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London. Reprinted by kind permission of Thames & Hudson

Présentation par Gwenaëlle Bertrand et Maxime Favard. De quelques aveux et remaniements. Préface à Design pour un monde réel (2e édition) par Victor Papanek.

Dès 1983, à l’occasion d’un travail de réédition de Design pour un monde réel1, Victor Papanek décide d’y apporter quelques conséquentes modifications sans vraiment s’en justifier. Si les changements concernent essentiellement des remaniements de chapitres, d’intitulés ou encore d’exemples pour réactualiser un propos qui a plus de dix ans, les modifications plus significatives tiennent dans la nouvelle préface de l’auteur. Dès les premières lignes, Victor Papanek célèbre son sens du sacrifice. Il se dépeint comme un martyr ayant subi des pressions professionnelles, rejeté par de nombreux éditeurs et censuré, pendant plusieurs années, lors d’événements publics aux États-Unis notamment. Ses critiques acerbes à l’encontre d’un design instigateur des désirs de la société de consommation lui vaudront cependant la reconnaissance de Gui Bonsiepe qui lui accorde un certain courage sans néanmoins partager ses opinions. Malgré les obstacles rencontrés pour la première édition, il se félicite du succès de sa réception et des liens évidents avec les parutions de Future Shock d’Alvin Toffler et Small Is Beautiful2 d’Ernst Friedrich3 Schumacher. Il invoque même une « importante communauté autour de ces trois volumes4 » avec comme principes fondateurs la pensée des alternatives et le respect d’un équilibre des ressources naturelles.

L’un des premiers remaniements qu’il opère dans cette réédition est la suppression de la préface de Richard Buckminster Fuller, décédé la même année. En effet, à partir de la seconde édition de son œuvre majeure, Victor Papanek n’a de cesse de souligner sa position divergente vis-à-vis de son ami alors qu’il ne fait aucun doute qu’il s’est d’abord conformé à ses idées avant de s’en distinguer. À l’instar du rejet de la compétence experte – la spécialisation – ou encore de l’idée d’un « International Council of Anticipatory Comprehensive Design » dont Victor Papanek aurait fait emprunt au « trésor intellectuel » de Fuller, ironise Gui Bonsiepe dans sa critique5, il y a bien convergence idéologique. Néanmoins, dans sa nouvelle préface, Victor Papanek se résout à l’évidence qu’une révolution constructive et coopérative du monde ne peut pas être orchestrée selon une échelle globale car « rien de gros ne fonctionne6 ». Même s’il ne s’exprime pas clairement sur son choix de supprimer la préface de Fuller, la raison d’une divergence de pensée est confirmée publiquement en juin 1992, lors d’une présentation pour Apple qu’il intitule « Microbes in the Tower7 ». Victor Papanek rappelle, assez tôt dans son discours, que contrairement à « Bucky [qui] pensait que la solution technologique était la réponse ; en d’autres termes, tout ce qui était technologiquement mauvais pouvait être réparé par de plus en plus de technologie, [c’est] un point de vue [qu’il se] trouve incapable de partager8 ». Cette impossibilité de concilier une technologie toujours plus accrue avec ce qu’il défendait, c’est-à-dire une conception centrée sur l’humain donc participative, intègre, éthique et souvent bricolée, l’a certainement convaincu, douze ans plus tard, de retirer les propos de son ami. Et ainsi, sa méfiance grandissante envers une pratique du design centrée sur la technologie l’amène à rédiger, la même année, Design for Human Scale9.

Ce n’est pas sans lien avec la rédaction de cet ouvrage ainsi qu’avec les critiques qu’il reçoit, dont celle de Gui Bonsiepe, s’il reconnaît une première édition quelque peu naïve avec le recours à un design social international à sens unique qui consistait à faire appel aux designers formés dans les pays industrialisés. Lors de sa participation au symposium de l’ICSID à Londres en avril 197610, quelques années après l’édition de 1971 et quelques années avant la réédition en 1984, Victor Papanek admet que la facilité à expérimenter une économie politique dans le Tiers Monde11 est proportionnelle au degré de victimisation et d’exploitation. Il regrette d’ailleurs que le choix des destinations par les volontaires occidentaux se fasse, souligne-t-il, selon un confort attendu et admet s’être remis en question vis-à-vis de ses activités de designer, mais s’il justifie ses erreurs par naïveté, cependant, il se défend des accusations d’infiltration et de contrôle stratégique des populations du Tiers Monde. Depuis sa seconde édition, il promeut l’image d’une route à double sens lui permettant d’expliquer combien, contrairement à ses premières opinions, les designers occidentaux avaient à apprendre des populations du Tiers Monde et notamment concernant leurs pratiques de recyclage, de réutilisation, de basses technologies et d’adaptation à un environnement souvent plus hostile. Il en déduisait que son aide concernait moins les populations vulnérables que les populations les plus aisées lorsqu’il dispensait ensuite, dans plusieurs écoles internationales de design, conférences et enseignements sur ce qu’il avait vu et appris. Cette mise au point lui apporte la conviction que le problème n’est fondamentalement pas celui de la fracture entre les pays riches et les pays pauvres, ou celui d’un modèle de gouvernance, qu’il soit communiste ou capitaliste, mais de « […] l’interface entre le design et les personnes12 » c’est-à-dire, du souci véritable de l’autre.

  1. Victor PAPANEK. Design for the Real World: Human ecology and social change, seconde édition complètement révisée avec 121 illustrations. Londres : Thames & Hudson, 1984.↩︎

  2. Ernst Friedrich SCHUMACHER. Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. Londres : Blond & Briggs, 1973.↩︎

  3. Lorsque Victor Papanek cite « son ami », il est écrit sans erreur « Fritz » Schumacher, abréviation de « Ernst Friedrich ». À ne pas confondre avec Fritz Schumacher (1869-1947), architecte cofondateur du Deutscher Werkbund.↩︎

  4. Victor PAPANEK, op. cit., p. xvi.↩︎

  5. Gui BONSIEPE. « Gui Bonsiepe: Review of Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek », traduction anglaise d’Anke Grundel [à partir de Gui BONSIEPE. « Design e sottosviluppo », Casabella, n° 385, janvier 1974, p. 42-44], in Lara PENIN (dir.). The Disobedience of Design. Gui Bonsiepe. Londres : Bloomsbury, 2022, p. 341.↩︎

  6. Victor PAPANEK, op. cit., p. xvi.↩︎

  7. Victor PAPANEK. « Microbes in the Tower. Dangers and Rewards in a Technological Age » conférence pour Apple Computer, 12 juin 1992.↩︎

  8. Idem, 7:47-8:03. En ligne :↩︎

  9. Victor PAPANEK. Design for Human Scale. New York : Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1983.↩︎

  10. Les actes du Symposium ont fait l’objet d’une anthologie : Julian BICKNELL et Liz McQUISTON [The Royal College of Art] (dir.). Design for Need, The Social Contribution of Design. Oxford, New York, Toronto, Sydney, Paris, Francfort ; Pergamon Press - ICSID, 1977.↩︎

  11. La dénomination « Tiers Monde » est utilisée pour rester fidèle au contexte historique.↩︎

  12. Victor PAPANEK. « Twelve Methodologies for Design – Because People Count* », in Julian BICKNELL et Liz McQUISTON, Design for Need, The Social Contribution of Design, op. cit.*, p. 120.↩︎