Industrial Design and Crime

Hello Core77,

This is my first time posting here. I am a recent grad with a bachelor’s in Industrial Design and recently received an internship and two freelance jobs. Yes people are happy for me for the hard times with the economy…except myself.

Okay, while sitting at my office I started to think about design and what my school and mentos taught me. I started to hate my internship and freelancing because (okay, here it comes) I feel like the world is becoming more and more materialistic with the products we are designing. For example kickstarter has a product and everyone supports it, then a month later, a new product with the same features with lovely aesthetics comes out - then everyone supports that one… then next month, another product of the same features and better… you get the point.

I believe im stressing about this because I come from an inner city were poverty, drugs, gun violence, and gangs is a huge problem. And my own family and friends back home cant afford the products I’m designing. We are designers and we are problem solvers, but I feel like most of the “problems” designers solve, do not seem to be problems in my book.

I am losing interest in the design industry where money matters most. I love being a designer but can an Industrial Designer solve crime? gangs? poverty?

Please direct me to industrial designers that solve social problems. Because I cannot seem to find any. Or is it up to me to start this new gap of design?

And please dont get offended with what I said, I respect all designers. They are truly pushing boundaries. However, I cant see myself being an industrial designer in the industry where the market and money matters most.

Thank You,

I think everyone who does any kind of design goes through a period where they realize that we are designing a lot of crap that ends up in a landfill. You either rationalize it or try to do better work.

I don’t believe crime or poverty can ever really be “solved”, as they are universal human conditions that go back as long as we’ve been able to give them names, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And yes, a lot of people are trying. Architecture For Humanity is a good starting place:

I cant see myself being an industrial designer in the industry where the market and money matters most.

Welcome to the boards asap.

An old book on design philosophy; Design for the Real World; by an idealistic Industrial Desiger/Author who never had to worry about food on the table, or shoes for his feet; Victor Papanek. Controversial opinions, but something you might find enlightening.

I did. He was my professor at Purdue in 1969.

“Design” is as much a life-style as it is a profession. You may find that you have to do one thing to facilitate another. i.e. working as an industrial designer of products that a lot of folks can not afford, in order to allow you to contribute gratis services on projects that mean more to you than they are able to pay.

I’ve felt similarly in the past, and it has motivated me to make some career changes. This was one of the reasons I stopped designing very expensive basketball shoes. It didn’t stop very expensive basketball shoes being sold to kids who probably could use that money for something else mind you.

There is an interesting saying “if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

The issues you bring up are the problems that have faced humanity since the literal beginning of civilization. They are always shifting, and they certainly require creative problem solving just to stem the tide. Can a designer help? Not likely in my opinion, not as a designer int the traditional sense. But someone who is willing to devote his life to a specific facet and apply creative problem solving definitely can. It all depends on what you really want to do and where you feel most effective.

Have you seen waiting for superman?

Jon Kolko and his amazing staff at the Austin Center for Design are tackling complex social issues like this via the design process. Certainly worth taking a close look at. What I find particularly interesting about AC4D is that they’re taking a realistic approach to solving these problems, some of which actually put the designer in a position to make a change while still earning a living wage.

Jon, are you out there to provide a better description of AC4D? He’s usually a very very busy guy, so if he doesn’t response, check out their site for more info (

In recent years here in Australia the state government has funded a research centre at the University of Technology Sydney called ‘Designing Out Crime’ that focuses on solving social problems similar to what you describe. Its run by people with industrial design / research based backgrounds with many of the projects already manufactured and implemented.

Here’s the website for more info (

A good example of a completed industrial design project done by Designing Out Crime are the bins installed across Sydney railway stations.
Designing Out Crime — Design Innovation Research Centre & Designing Out Crime — Design Innovation Research Centre

Wow thank you so much! I have so many links to look at! :laughing:

Maybe I’m going to a phase. I feel like everyone has their own experiences in life so thats what makes people so unique on what they want to achieve in their lives.

Thank you Lmo, Im hoping to read this soon and reading more about Victor Papanek. And my old professor also told me something very similar. He said to build my experience and reputation as a designer in order to work for projects against violence and poverty.

Yo, that is very true, and that is the reality of it. Thank you for the article.

Im really interesting in reading further more about Harlem’s Children’s Zone. Because I also have my own beliefs on how to fix the education system in the south side of Chicago. It has been a big deal here lately with many teachers were protesting in the beginning of the school year.

Thank you for the links dodano. Design Out Crime is a really cool group. Im really loving what they do!

And thanks for everyone being so supportive to a fellow designer.

My strategy is to have clients that are using design not only to keep profits coming, but to bring better products to the world also. But I define “better product to the world” as new technologies or any honest innovation as well as social explicit woks.

I like a lot Fuseproject’s portfolio: good aesthetic work with social meaning or technological breakthrough. To me one of those 3 aspects have to exist: Innovative, Technological or Social. Because, as happened to you, I soon realize that the briefs more often than not don’t evolved real innovation. A lot of design work fits exactly where the client doesn’t want to make bigger product changes, so he uses design to enhance the impression of change. So its profit for profit sake, witch for me doesn’t work. To aim at those 3 aspects doesn’t mean that aesthetic is to be neglected, on the contrary, aesthetic is the glue: present in all jobs, and the big responsible for make things work.

Right now I´ve been working in a Medical Device and in structural components for roofing. I feel very good doing this. BUT I am not earning enough money yet! So I really don’t know if this is going to work. I still accept any kind of product design briefing and try to gain loyalty from the clients I like.

I always take the viewpoint that all of these projects will be done with or without me. Therefore, the best thing that I can do is be at the table and fight for the best design possible. Every job I left has proven that theory to be true.

Plus, I’ll remind you of something that I’ve seen Yo! post quite a few times: “Your career is a marathon, not a sprint.” (or something like that). Whenever I get frustrated with where I’m at, I just think of that phrase and the progress I’ve made so far. Today, we may not be in a position to run the projects the way they should be, but keep learning and you’ll be ready when you get the chance.

Because of some of the other topics on here recently, I’ve been thinking back on my career so far. If a punk Mr-914 had landed a design director position after 2-3 years experience, I would have been awful. I wasn’t detail oriented enough and that’s where most of the difference lies.

Don’t loose heart!

I should reread this book again. But, I’ll tell you…I have always been the one that sits on the side of the fence that found Papenek to be nothing but a pretentious asshole. My memory of his book is that he is writing about a Utopia that is not feasible in our world and he did it in such a condescending way that he shaped my belief in design…but in quite the opposite manner than I think he was trying to.

We’re INDUSTRIAL Designers. Fundamentally, we’re designers of things to be mass produced. To be consumed. Papenek’s book is for artisens and Libertarians who are looking to live in the woods and shun civilization.

Now, the fact that we’re designing things to be mass produced doesn’t preclude us from considering things for sustainability, recyclability, etc. But the premise that cell phones should be made out of hemp and that’s what is going to make the world a better place has always made me bristle.

(Full Disclosure: I am also a Purdue Graduate…albeit a few years after LEW…and had Papenek jammed down my throat for my tenure there.)

That’s always been roughly my take on it as well Jon.

A lot of designers love it though. Whatever works for you I suppose. I just found it to be a little too much talk.

Jon: In his defense, I remember Papenek saying that designers should take 1 year every 5 to do pro bono work to help people. I don’t think he was too far out of touch. My only problem with it would be where do I find this pro bono work?

Really? That’s not out of touch?

1 year out of every five to do “free” work.

It’s good for the soul, etc. But it isn’t realistic.

I understand his message…trust me, I struggle with this every day and I am even actively trying to do something that I believe can change the world ( But, c’mon. 1 out of every 5 years?

Besides, why does it have to be pro bono? Design has the capacity to create jobs. It has the ability to develop new industries. It can teach and inspire. This can all be done AND put food on the table.

I would say it is optimistic, not out of touch. If I planned it, I don’t think I’d have trouble taking a year off every five.

As for the ‘pro bono’ aspect, it has to be if we make the assumptions that Papenek did. His assumptions were that the kind of designs that would really elevate people’s standard of living in the developing world are never going to be done because the people in need don’t have the money to pay for it. Furthermore, he assumed that these people in need were lacking design in order to truly solve their problems. Looking back, I would say he’s right on the first part and wrong on the second. However, I’m sure I would have fully agreed with him in 1971.

Lastly, he was an advocate for a certain kind of change. As such, he overstated things. That’s what advocates do.

From everything else that I’ve read and seen he seemed like a very creative designer and someone who got a lot of difficult projects done. That’s what makes me pay attention.

Nice piece of positive design work.

very cool.

saw this on Boing Boing this morning, fits into the Papanek theme: