Design department classes sometimes encourage you to design for the collective majority. In my interior design class, we designed around specific ritual activities such as eating cereal and drinking tea, which each have their own special needs. At the end we had an assemblage of interior spaces dedicated to specific activities, encompassing a more comprehensive image of the ‘majority’. Even when we design for minorities, we aren’t taught to design for needs. Design courses are not structured around problem solving. The assignments are mostly hypothetical and surround a loosely defined problem space. It is very difficult to hypothetically simulate the nature of real social problems in a fictional brief.
Part of the reason we aren’t taught to design for the needs of people is because of the time structure of the quarter system. There is not enough time to build rapport and foster relationships with community members who are qualified to give insights into a problem space. The school does not incentivize doing internships even if they are one of the best ways to participate in community — variable units don’t help you graduate. Because we have never been taught ethics, I’d imagine that professors would be hesitant to give the responsibility of designing for needs to students as well.
Papanek’s television set was a low cost means of providing a modern educational tool. He is realistic about the limitations of it — he knows that a television set that could play prerecorded material would not be enough to educate the third world. But the set empowers users in more ways — it actively provides jobs for local economies and teaches labor skills that could be used in other lines of work. Most importantly though, it serves as a proof of concept of affordability. It revealed that $10 is enough to create a piece of technology that was being marketed for over ten times the cost. It makes a form of market exploitation transparent and transfers power to consumers by giving them more leverage over their purchasing decisions.
It’s pretty difficult to actively translate all of Papanek’s principles of good (or bad) design without doing a very thorough sit down analysis because a lot of design is intentionally subversive and hides its faults. For me, actively interacting with an object of design tends to reveal its failures a lot more than trying to analyze it using a set framework.
I love system redesign and prompts that begin to discuss consequences of systemic failures (like this one!).