Envisioning versus realizing products for use in poor communities: The case of Victor Papanek and Nordic designers
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSkjerven A. Envisioning versus realizing products for use in poor communities: The case of Victor Papanek and Nordic designers. Sustainable Development. 2018:1-6 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/sd.1878
An increasing number of people is currently living under poor conditions in enclaves of rapidly growing urban areas. Many of them are of indigenous origin. They are in urgent need of basic equipment for living a healthy and decent life. The products have to be simple, cheap and acceptable to people with different cultural and geographical backgrounds. Methods to realize the design, production and implementation of such appliances is a matter of urgency. Therefore, the ideas of the Austrian-American designer Victor Papanek (1923-98) have gained new actuality. During the 1960s and 1970s Papanek played a significant role in the international design community. His ideal was the less polluting design traditions of indigenous people, made by simple methods in local materials. He had many supporters among design students in Scandinavia and Finland. Some of them tried to adapt their work practice to his ideology. The aim of the paper is to investigate what impact his ideas had on the Nordic design community, and in particular, whether it was followed up by stakeholders and eventually reached the target groups in the third world. Success factors and failures are uncovered and discussed to clarify how the ideas might be utilized in today’s situation. The empiric study is based on literary reviews, and of interviews with designers in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The investigation shows that Papanek’s ideas made a tremendous and lasting impact on designers in the Nordic countries including some of their work. Still, design and production for indigenous people in least developed countries seldom occurred, due to lack of contact with stakeholders. One of the few exceptions was the foundation of the Norwegian organization “Design without Borders”, which was mainly financed by the government, i.e.by ways of political decisions. In conclusion, without contact and cooperation with stakeholders, particularly the political and commercial sector, and users in the local communities on the other hand, it is not possible to realize ideas of this kind in the form of products and their use. The work of “Design without Borders” constitutes a good example of success, and should be used as a model for further work.