From objects to design programmes
in Comradely objects

This chapter shows that just as VNIITE designers had built a theoretical basis for action by the late 1960s and started developing new prototypes for modern household objects, such as vacuum cleaners and refrigerators, they also started to recognise the inadequacy of the object as a basic unit of socialist material culture. Following the theorists of the Ulm School of Design (1953–68, a school critical of American styling and promoting an interdisciplinary approach to design), VNIITE designers tended to see environments, and not objects, as the ideal end products of their work. Without abandoning the avant-garde’s idea of a comradely object, after the late 1960s Soviet designers and theorists dwelled upon another notion of the avant-garde: the artist as the organiser of all aspects of society’s life, including the material environments of work and leisure. After discussing several projects for home appliances from the early 1970s, the chapter explains the notion of a design programme – an elaboration including systems of objects, environments and labour processes. By analysing two cases of design programmes, one from the early 1970s and another from the 1980s, I demonstrate that this type of design was flexible: it intended to regulate broad areas of human activity but also left space for consumer activity and variation.

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Comradely objects

Design and material culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s–80s

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