Designing for Socialist Need : Industrial Design Practice in the German Democratic Republic book cover
1st Edition

Designing for Socialist Need
Industrial Design Practice in the German Democratic Republic

ISBN 9780367434571
Published November 28, 2019 by Routledge
282 Pages 65 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

How does industrial design operate outside of capitalist consumer culture? Designing for Socialist Need assembles a detailed picture of industrial design practice in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR). Drawing on much previously unexplored material from a wide variety of sources, it not only maps out some of the ideological, institutional and economic contexts within which GDR design functioned, it also critically reconstructs the designers’ aims and perspectives in order to argue that they shared a profoundly socially responsible approach to design. By focusing on their ideas and approaches, this volume attends to the previously unacknowledged intellectual and practical richness of GDR design culture and demonstrates that it can provide pertinent insights not only for scholars of GDR history or German design, but also for contemporary design practitioners, theorists and educators with an interest in sustainability in design.

Table of Contents

List of figures


List of abbreviations


Part 1 – The fundamentals of GDR design

1 – Aims and priorities

2 – Institutional support

Part 2 – Exemplary ideas and practices

3 – Designing for complex functionality

4 – Designing for appropriate product lifespans

5 – Designing systems

Part 3 – Resistance encountered by GDR designers

6 – Cultural-political resistance

7 – Obstacles in the spheres of production and distribution



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Katharina Pfützner is Lecturer in Industrial Design at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland, where she also contributes to undergraduate and postgraduate programs at the school’s Faculty of Visual Culture. Her primary interest is in socially responsible design. She has a background in design practice and a PhD in design history. Her research on design in the GDR has been presented in numerous conference papers and publications.


"Designing for Socialist Need allows us to peer behind the iron curtain in an engaging account of how the industrial design profession operated within the planned economy of the German Democratic Republic. At a time when imagining alternatives to the capitalist consumer market as the default setting for design has become more difficult, yet at the same time more pressing than ever, Pfützner’s study is a poignant reminder that the future once held different possibilities - and still does."

Kjetil Fallan, University of Oslo, Norway - author of Designing Modern Norway

By zooming in so closely Pfützner is able, somewhat counterintuitively, to articulate

the wider relevance of the GDR beyond the dates of the country’s existence or the narrow sphere of East

German or even Cold War culture. As a result Designing for Socialist Need is not a postmortem on a doomed

experiment that survives only in flea markets, but a vital history of industrial design in the GDR that offers fresh

insights on the design culture of our own era.

Emily Pugh - Principal Research Specialist, Getty Research Institute