Wednesday, 6 April 2011

where design is a dirty word

Am becoming increasingly aware just how differently designers sit in the public imagination here. Design is considered a bit trivial, designers very much minor characters to their clients demands.

Of course, in Soviet times industrial and product design never really got a foothold within the complexities of a poorly functioning, state-led demand economy where consumer goods were always shoddy and in short supply, and any change just meant more problems. Architectural design, meanwhile, provided a symbolic and decorative celebration of the new communist world,  as well as a criticism of modernist and functionalist architecture elsewhere which was only 'expressing the callousness of the capitalist industrial monopoly.'* 

So designers were not/are not seen as offering a valuable service as they do - or think they do - within consumer society by creating innovative and useful things; they are instead either individual (artistic) visionaries or just people who get paid too much to make things look prettier.

But, then, of course, there is also a hidden history of design; of designers who worked inventively within the state system (such as VNIITE in the 1980s) or outside of it, for example, the more famous Paper Architects of the same period. And joy of joys, one of my colleagues worked with VNIITE and has been bringing me in magazines from this time. Design (because connected to capitalism) remained a dirty word, and the subject was named aesthetic engineering or technical aesthetics - but the work is adventurous and clever; and in the brave early days of perestroika when it was possible to have your own design studio and ideas, some beautiful (and crazy) things appeared. 

Shown are examples from Vladimir Telyakov's Futurological Objects series 1983-89, taken from Constantin Boym's New Russian Design; from where the quote used here is also taken. With thanks to Alexey Sinelnikov.

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