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Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,221 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Design for the Real World has, since its first appearance twenty-five years ago, become a classic. Translated into twenty-three languages, it is one of the world's most widely read books on design. In this edition, Victor Papanek examines the attempts by designers to combat the tawdry, the unsafe, the frivolous, the useless product, once again providing a blueprint for sen ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 416 pages
Published August 30th 2005 by Academy Chicago Publishers (first published 1972)
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 ·  1,221 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it
What are we to make of the fact that this book, itself a designed object, written with the methodological assistance of a flow chart process, with a direct intention to fill in a clear gap in socially-aware industrial design, is a mess with abrupt shifts in topic and sudden returns to a well-worn discussions? Wouldn't such a presentation engender the criticism that presenting something so clearly important to the writer in such a way lead to undermining that very content with the dismissal that ...more
Matt McLean
Jun 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
There are some excellent insights in this book, especially regarding the power of and need for collaborative, multi-disciplinary teams to solve design problems facing the world, but I found Victor's tone a bit combative and I didn't particularly enjoy slogging through an excess of examples of poor design. Even so, I found myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly regarding the role of education in the lives of young designers, as well as the missive to avoid specialization.

The book is a product of
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
This book changed the way I taught design.
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I did not expect such a dense volume and such thoughtful discourse on the power of design.

Until I read the book, I didn’t realize it was originally published in the 1970’s and last revised in 1984. I also didn’t realize the author, Victor Papanek, is deceased. Many design professionals have recommended this book to me. It’s the first book designers often think of when you ask them for resources about design and ethics. So I assumed it was published much more rece
Andrew Tatge
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought provoking and often impassioned but chapters can meander. The main thread of a chapter can get lost amid examples, asides etc. and finishing individual chapters was daunting because material seemed arbitrary at times. Many chapters, however, have snappy attacks on design/industrial design; every now and then there are great frameworks or explanations about design values that might stick with you long after reading.

Most of the ideas here are surprisingly prescient and jive well with huma
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Engineers, designers
Shelves: non-fiction
If you want to design products, this book is a five. It's a bit dated in spots, but the author is dead so updates are tough. Many of the same issues still face us, crappy, wasteful buildings, poorly planned urban areas and shoddy consumer products along with the corporate apologists for this mess.

Includes how to design thoughts and methods as well as old news.
Barbara Emanuel
Nov 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: design
"first-world" designers teaching poor "third-world" designers how to think/design... good luck to the "first-world" people who read this book and believe this is the current design reality in the world... ...more
Tom Sussex
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
The more old books I read the more you realise humanity never changes. We will always face the same problems we were facing 50 years ago when this book was written!

Still, Victor speaks with a great deal of insight as he looks to the future of design and the way forward. When he's not going on an endless rant at poorly designed product (which can make this book rather tedious and long at points) he offers a radical and alternative way of designing products.

He ends the book with this quote, which
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very enlightening design book. This book covers the very fundamental of design, as to what design should do and what roads it could pave. You are reminded of the intensely wielding power that industrial design possesses. A quote that has struck me still, after reading this book, is that unlike other fields, designers try to create new problems so that they could construct their own elegant solution towards it.

This reminds me of the fingerprint lock for mobile phones. Nobody actually wanted finge
Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read, not just for designers, but for anyone in a creative field. A call for ethics and pride of what you put out in the world. Something I've always admired about science (wrestling with responsibility), but hadn't seen in my field. Well, here it is.

The only drawback is that it was last updated in the 80s and so doesn't talk specifically about web design (focused more on physical product design). If anyone knows of a good "updated" design book that talks about human ecology and s
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reference
Very bold thesis statement! Designers have a strong professional and even moral obligation to create items that are functional, aesthetic and well made (points for ecological sensitivity, too). They should not contribute to mindless consumerism through overbuilding or churning out endless variations of the same essential product. Wonderful sentiments indeed.
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: accessibility, design
Brilliant. It will change my teaching practice fundamentally.
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting look at sustainability, consumption and the relationship of product/things and design.
Peter O'Brien
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mta, smart-thinking
"All men are designers. All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity. The planning and patterning of any act towards a desired, foreseeable end constitutes the design process. Any attempt to separate design, to make it a thing-by-itself, works counter to the inherent value of design as the primary underlying matrix of life. Design is composing an epic poem, executing a mural, painting a masterpiece, writing a concerto. But design is also cleaning and ...more
Sherry Wu
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Having experienced real design work, the designer will forever after feel a little ashamed when he designs a pretty, sexy toaster.” ——Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World

Design for the Real World is one of the world’s most widely read books on design. In this book, Victor Papanek denounced marketing-driven design (e.g. obsolescence) and exposed a set of issues by irresponsible design - tawdry, frivolous, useless, unsafe, waste, pollution.

In the 2nd half of the book, he claimed that design
Christopher Nilssen
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A kind of terrifying read once you get through it and realize that, while some things have improved, many of the most toxic elements that Papanek rails against have gotten significantly worse.

One of the recommended reads for “Human-Computer Interaction”, though would be worthwhile for any designer to at least leaf through.

In the end, the utopian ideal of designers being able to refuse work they found morally objectionable is a good one, but like most utopian ideals lives much more easily in drea
Jacquie Shaw
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The whole time reading this book I kept wondering why it hadn't been presented to me during my time at design school. This is a fantastic read that touches on ethical and inclusive design.

Though written in the 70's I found so much of Papanek's criticism of the practice of design still — very much unfortunately — relevant.

Though some language I found was outdated in parts (I did though read an older edition I found in a second hand store)
Nick DeMarco
Jan 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: culture-vultures
This is the book that sent me to design school. The first page is a deadly attack on industrial design as the worst profession in the world (second only to advertising). The rest of the book is filled with hope for the potentials that design can have in shaping the world in new, positive, directions.
Samuel Oktavianus
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
Design For The Real World is a book on how to design responsibly—I should elaborate on this later, but let's talk about a little background for now. This book was originally published in the 70s. Despite the fact that this is an old book, the main principles Papanek talked about still remains the same. Viktor Papanek was an Austrian-American designer who worked abroad in many third world countries. While he worked there, he helped to design many useful tools for poor, illiterate, disabled people ...more
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a world of abject want, a preoccupation with only making things pretty is a crime against humanity.

Even though this book was first published in 1985, Papanek points out problems with design that are still relevant today. Designers are still used to create products that are obsolescent. After graduating from our design degrees, we are caught in the neoliberal system of finding jobs straight after uni to earn money to pay for our food and rent (and sometimes debts). Do we question if the produc
Matthew Fung
Apr 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting take on the consumer behaviour, the role of design in modern human society.

With strong political and environmental views, Papanek gives instruction on how design as a function can reduce pollution, starvation among other modern ills.

His use of product examples, whilst old by today's standards shows that the nature of conglomerate businesses discourage innovation in order to remain relevant.

While product design isn't my favourite area, the fundamentals ring true for any discipline ult
Javier Pereda
Jun 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: diseño
This is a must have Design book. It showcases the main methodologies and primary theoretical approaches towards Design. Being an old book, it showcases many colonial and Western impositions towards what Design is to the rest of the world. Especially considering de-conolonisation and Westernisation of narratives in Sustainable Design. Nevertheless, it provides the foundation to initiate such conversations.
Markko Karu
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a book that defined me as a designer: we live on a planet with limited resources, therefore we need to use our ingenuity to get more done with less and include sustainability to every design brief. Now, 15 years after reading this book the ideas have become mainstream but even in 2005 it was still something most people were not thinking about.
matthew spencer
Aug 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
Brilliant writer/practitioner and dense with material, but the point of view is just too outdated and irrelevant to the industry to be of much use. Perspective is crotchety as well. There is better classic design writing.
Petr Augustin
Jan 01, 2021 rated it liked it
It has a lot of great ideas, but it's very hard to read and a lot of it is outdated.
I still have huge respect for Victor though.
This book would be amazing if someone took time to update the content. Keep the core concepts, but refresh the structure and writing.
Katia Belobrova
Strong and evolutionary ideas, but the examples are quite too long and vapid. Their description distract from the main course of the book.
Iron Ic
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
perfect book to show social responsibility aspect of design
a lot of to think of
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I haven't read a book that changed my mind in a long ass time. We are assholes, living in the 1st world. ...more
Marcello Bressan
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: design
Despite the author's self-obsession, this book is incredibly relevant, as if written today! Paramount for the conceptual and ethical foundations of any designer. ...more
A very influential example of the 60's counter-cultural optimism, applied to the fields of design and engineering. ...more
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