Design Aesthetics

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Design Aesthetics


(khudozhestvennoe konstruirovanie), creative planning directed toward perfecting man’s physical environment, which is created by the instruments of industrial production; the method used is to reduce to a single system the functional and compositional relationships between individual objects and groups of objects and the objects’ aesthetic and functional characteristics. Design aesthetics—often identified with design proper—is inseparable from the modern-day process of creating industrial products intended for man’s direct use; its practice results from creative interaction between design engineers, technologists, and other specialists and is meant to facilitate a better appraisal of consumer needs and an increase in production efficiency. Under the conditions of socialism, design aesthetics contributes to the creation of a harmonious physical environment that will meet all of the growing material and spiritual needs of man.

Designers who practice design aesthetics make use of the results of research in various fields of science and technology and are familiar with modern industrial production and its engineering and economics.

Design aesthetics is governed by the theory developed by industrial design and by data derived from economics, sociology, psychology, ergonomics, semiotics, and systems engineering. Its methodology consists of an analysis—a study of the initial situation and construction of the planned object, functional-ergonomic and design-production analysis, and compositional analysis—and a synthesis, which includes a functional-ergonomic survey and work on the object’s composition. The use of modeling at all development stages (with scale models or, frequently, full-size models) makes it possible to test and select the optimum variants of composition, color and line, and ergonomic design. Here, the model serves not as an illustration of the design but rather as a designing tool; continuously modified in the course of development, it eventually becomes the standard for the experimental model of the article.

Specific to the methodology of design aesthetics is the consideration of the planned article as one element in the entire group of objects that surround man in a physical environment, all of which must meet utilitarian and aesthetic requirements as much as possible and increase the efficiency of man’s activities. Systems that unite articles produced or used together are the most complicated objects of design aesthetics. In this instance the methodology of design includes such tasks as solving the problems of component diversity in the system (the range of items offered) and formulating the system’s structure with the techniques of standardization and unitization.

Design aesthetics arose in the early 20th century, but the preconditions for its establishment developed long before the transition from hand to machine production; such a transition entailed “a complete technical revolution, which does away with the craftsman’s manual skill that has taken centuries to acquire” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 3, p. 455). A direct result of this revolution was the conflict between the progressive-ness of the engineering idea underlying a new article and the article’s aesthetic inferiority, which caused many utilitarian objects to lose the inherent artistic significance they formerly possessed. Recognition of the conflict in the mid-19th century first took the form of a romantic appeal to revive the traditions of medieval craftsmen (J. Ruskin and W. Morris), but the unsoundness of the approach soon became apparent.

The foundations of Western European design aesthetics were laid in the theoretical and practical work of the artists, architects, and engineers P. Behrens, W. Gropius, G. Semper, and H. Muthesius in Germany, H. C. van de Velde in Belgium, and Le Corbusier and F. Reuleaux in France, as well as in the work of the Deutscher Werkbund and the Bauhaus. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the center of design aesthetics shifted from Europe to the USA, where it developed primarily in the form of what is known as commercial design and was used as an effective tool of competition. American industrial firms organized design departments and a large number of planning and design consulting firms appeared. In the 1950’s and 1960’s several higher educational institutions of design in Europe and the USA became the centers of theoretical research in design aesthetics. The Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm played an especially important role. In a number of countries, including Great Britain, France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Japan, state and public organizations have been created for the purpose of encouraging the development of design aesthetics, including national design councils, design centers, and professional designers’ associations. Such organizations were united in 1957 in the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID).

The creation of highly utilitarian industrial products is characteristic of design aesthetics as practiced in capitalist countries, but there are also individual examples of the successful use of the discipline to increase the efficiency of human activities under extreme conditions, for example, in space and marine exploration. The creation of “corporate packaging” for large industrial enterprises and corporations, which embraces production, product packaging, advertising, transportation, clothing for company employees, and the architecture of buildings, uniting them with common artistic characteristics, was one of the most important spheres of application of design aesthetics in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Corporate packaging is often distinguished by a high aesthetic level; however, its design solutions are dictated mainly by commercial publicity considerations.

The first leaders of design aesthetics in the USSR were art workers (including those who established the artistic handicrafts centers in Abramtsevo and Talashkino), representatives of the Russian engineering school (I. I. Rerberg and V. G. Shukhov), and theorists of technical creativity (la. A. Stoliarov, P. I. Strakhov, and P. M. Engel’meier).

After the October Revolution of 1917, the organization of Vkhutemas (State Higher Arts and Technical Studios), with which the practitioners and theorists of production art were associated, was an important landmark on the road to modern design aesthetics. In the 1930’s, elements of the design aesthetics approach were used unsystematically in various spheres of planning. In the postwar years, design aesthetics developed primarily in the branches of industry connected with transportation machine building. The first specialized design aesthetics organization was the Architecture and Art Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation Machine Building of the USSR, founded in 1946, which developed design projects for passenger ships, railroad cars, and trolleybuses.

The development of Soviet design aesthetics intensified after the publication of the decrees of the Council of Ministers of the USSR On Improving the Quality of Machine-building Production and Cultural and Everyday Items by Introducing the Methods of Design Aesthetics (1962) and On the Use of the Achievements of Industrial Design in the National Economy (1968). The Institute of Industrial Design (VNIITE) was founded in 1962, and a number of special bureaus of design aesthetics were organized in different branches of industry; in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many departments of design aesthetics were established at industrial enterprises, design bureaus, and scientific research institutes.

The Institute of Industrial Design and its affiliates work on problems in the methodology and ergonomic principles of design aesthetics, develop experimental design projects for the most important types of industrial articles, and provide systematic direction of designers’ work in industry. The monthly information bulletin Tekhnicheskaia estetika (Industrial Design), published since 1964, deals with problems in the theory, methods, and practice of design aesthetics, and the Institute of Industrial Design also publishes Trudy (Transactions). In addition, bibliographic and review publications are issued, designs are disseminated, exhibitions of achievements in Soviet and foreign design are organized, and an information service is offered by specialists. The Institute of Industrial Design has been a member of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design since 1965. In 1975, an international congress on design and design aesthetics was held in Moscow.

One of the major trends in the development of modern Soviet design aesthetics is an expansion of the aims and an increase in the scope of planning and design (in addition to the development of individual articles, the comprehensive equipping of large enterprises, and the equipping of services organizations). A transition is occurring from personal design work to the creation of programs in design aesthetics that help improve the production quality and efficiency of production associations and entire branches of industry.

Design aesthetics is also widely applied in the other socialist countries, where it is used in solving important national economic problems, particularly those involving an increase in the quality of industrial and cultural production. It is developing systematically with state assistance, and sectoral and intersectoral centers of design aesthetics, scientific research organizations, and state coordinating bodies have been established.


Kratkaia metodika khudozhestvennogo konstruirovaniia. Moscow, 1966.
Khudozhestvennoe konstruirovanie v SSSR, 1966–1967. Moscow, 1969.
Osnovy metodiki khudozhestvennogo konstruirovaniia. Moscow, 1970.
Dizhur, A. L. Khudozhestvennoe konstruirovanie v sotsialisticheskikh stranakh. Moscow, 1971.
Khudozhestvennoe konstruirovanie v SSSR, 1968–1969. Moscow, 1971.
Solov’ev, Iu. B. “Khudozhestvennoe konstruirovanie v SShA.” SShA, 1972, no. 8.
Khudozhestvennoe konstruirovanie v SSSR, 1970–1973. Moscow, 1975.
Dreyfuss, H. Designing for People. New York, 1967.
Ashford, F. The Aesthetics of Engineering Design. London, 1969.
Kelm, M. Produktiongestaltung im Sozializmus. Berlin, 1971.
Dorfless, G. Introduzione al disegno industriale. Turin, 1972.
Archer, L. B. Design Awareness and Planned Creativity in Industry. Ottawa-London, 1974.
Papanek, V. Design for the Real World. St. Albans, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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