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Rethinking Design Policy

in the Third World

Sulfikar A.mir

Th ~ artEieis part ot ·AnSTSFocus m Introduction

Design· research project in the Oepanment ol TI1e wlfortw1ate social and economic conditions of TI\ird World '
Science and Technology Sludies at RensSfllaer societies have instigated designers and design scholars to pay
Polylechnic lnstiiUte. 11 is funded by the NSF attention to the needs of this two-tllirds of the world popuJation.
Science and Technology Sludies Program
11\e "ideology" of design as problem solving drives designers and
I m uld like totharj( Ned WoOOhouse. design scholars to think about how design can contribute to helping
Ron Eglash. and Langdon Wmner tor insighriul TI\ircl World societies. 11\e 1970s wib1essed the emergence of this
discussions. Jaeques Giard fa stimulatingmy awareness. Victor Papanek, in his classic Desig11 for the Renl World,
interesl in design fXllicv. and Victor MargJlin called for designers' attention to the predicament of these societies.
foreditorial assistance.
As an industrial designer, Papan ek believed that "design has become
tl1e most powerful tool witl1 whicl1 man [and woman] shapes his
[and her) tools and environments (and, by extension, society and
himself). " Furthem\ore, Pa panek asserted tl~at "design must become
an uu\Ovative, highly creative, cross-discipfu1ary tool responsive to
tl1e true needs of men [and women)."' Papanek's notion of design
for tl1e TIUrd W'o rld was quite novel at a time when most design-
ers u\ industrial, developed cotuttries were concentrating on serv-
iltg profit-oriented industrial corporations, celebrating high mass
conswnption society.
Following Papanek' s challenge, the International Cotmcil
of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSIO) organized tl1e "Design for
Need" conference in A pril1976. Held at the Royal College of Art, the
conference represented tl1e international design community's general
awareness of design's responsibili ty ut contemporary society, exam-
I prefer using the term Thil1lWo~d.
ilting tl1e social ccontribution of design at botl1 tl1e philosophical and
wtichrepresents a group of coontries
in Asia. Africa. andLatin America practical levels. Gui llonsiepe, a Brazilian design tlti.nker, provoca-
wtnse social histofY ts characterized by tively brought up the issue of design U\ 11\ird World cowttries in a
the poSicolonial culture. Although the broader sense. Bonsiepe's point of view; however, was quite different
Second World of communist counuies from that of Papanek. While Papanek proposed tl1e idea of design for
has collapsed, the concept olthe First
tl1e TI\ird World. from tl1e materiality of design, llonsiepe consbued
and the ThirdWortd slill iswidelyuSfld
tl1e issue of TI1ird World design from tl1e political and economic
to refer to two groups of cotlltries sepa·
ra1ed by a considerable gap in ecoromic relations between the First an d the Third World, or in Bonsiepe's
and polrt ~l pmverin global affairs. See terms usiltg a Marxist-oriented dependency framework, central
Anuro Escobar: fllcoumering Develtping: and peripheral cowttries. llonsiepe scrutiJU.Zed tl1e inequalities in
The Milking and U>making of the Third tl1e distribution of wealtl\ caused by a system of w1equal excl1ange or
World (Princeton: Prircetoo UnMnsity
"value transfer" from peripheral to central economies. He proposed
Press. 1995).
Z lfJCttr Papancl<. Design for the Real a mo del of design transfer tl1at would rely on ru\ industrialization
World: Humeri Ecology and Social policy "tl1at promotes a self-centered or autonomous economy, as
Change(Lordon: Granada. 1974~
© 2004 MassaclllSetiS Institute ot Technology
11 Design Issues: VoilJme 20, Number 4 AuiUmn 2004

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