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This page is a part of Jan MICHL's design theory website

The following online texts
are in ENGLISH, NORWEGIAN or CZECH language.

The texts discuss some recent books on design,
historical and theoretical aspects of modernist design thinking,
functionalism in design, the form follows function idea,
industrial design, and the notion of redesign,
in Norwegian, Scandinavian, British, American or Czech
historical and theoretical context.

texts about design

written by jan michl :

research / reviews / essays

Texts IN ENGLISH only
Texts IN CZECH only

research and reflections

Am I just seeing things - or is the modernist apartheid regime still in place?
2007 (
For an expanded version of the above text, with notes and bibliography, see here.)

FROM THE TEXT: " ... things will probably truly change only when we have understood that our inherited picture of modernism in general and of functionalism in particular is almost entirely wrong: that modernism was not about modernity, and functionalism was not about functioning. On the contrary: modernists rejected the very heart of modernity: its diversity, its individualism and its pluralism, while functionalists were consumed by their formalist desires. We should understand that in their thinking modernists and functionalists were distinctly pre-pluralist, pre-tolerant - and in many ways pre-modern ... "

Without a godlike designer no designerlike God: On a mistaken understanding of human artifacts in William Paley's argument from design, in the Intelligent Design proponents, and in their opponents among evolutionary biologists

FROM THE TEXT: " ... design historians, i.e. those exploring design, manufacture and use of artifacts as they change over time, are in fact in possession of a key argument against the scientific pretensions of the ID theory - one which may be more decisive for the outcome of the dispute than anything the opponents of ID among evolutionary biologists have said or can say ... "

On Seeing Design as Redesign: An Exploration of a Neglected Problem in Design Education

FROM THE TEXT: "We all talk of design day in and day out – but is 'design' really the right word for what designers do? This article is based on a sense that we lack a perspective encompassing more than the designer’s individual creative activity and more than merely the last designer’s contribution – in other words, more than the term “design” is able to embody .... "

Ĺ se design som redesign: Formgivningsdidaktiske betraktninger
[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: "Denne artikkelen er basert pĺ en fornemmelse av at vi mangler et perspektiv eller et begrep som rommer mer enn designerens individuelle skapende aktivitet og mer enn kun den siste designerens bidrag – med andre ord, mer enn begrepet «design» er i stand til ĺ romme. Vi har ogsĺ behov for et begrep som fanger designaktivitetens grunnleggende uavsluttethet, det at ingen lřsning blir den endelige lřsningen, i motsetning til hva ordet design ... "

Ĺ se design som redesign
[in Norwegian]

Towards a Disciplinary Identity of the Making Professions: An Introduction
Co-written with Halina Dunin-Woyseth
[part of a 1.2 MB pdf file; takes some time to download]

FROM THE TEXT: "To distinguish the kind of knowledge with which the making professions are concerned, we shall employ the term making knowledge. This is a term related to the established distinction introduced by Gilbert Ryle, between knowing how and knowing that, and belongs obviously to the broader category of the knowledge-how. And just as the field of the contrasting knowledge-that has been maintained by the established academic disciplines, we submit that there is a case for sustaining and maintaining the field of knowledge-how, or making knowledge, through a discipline of its own, a making discipline..."

Institutional Framework Around Successful Art Forms in Communist Czechoslovakia.

FROM THE TEXT: "There is hardly any doubt about it: industrial design definitely did not belong to the success stories of any of the fully Socialist economies. The reason for that is not difficult to find. Under the communist regime almost all ... "

Dva různé osudy? Užité umění a průmyslový design v socialistickém Československu
[in Czech]

Z TEXTU: " ... osud průmyslového designu v Československu 1948-1989 lze lépe pochopit, postavime-li jej vedle výsledků, kterých v časech ‘totality’ dosáhli představitelé užitého umění. Myslím tím produkci několika desítek ... " [text bez diakritiky]

Form follows WHAT ? The modernist notion of function as a carte blanche

FROM THE TEXT: "The aim of this essay is to shed light on the modernist dictum form follows function. Taking the dictum as the gist of the modernist principle of design, I would like to pursue this question: Was the dictum ever feasible as a design precept, a precept which promised to bring an end to formalism? The answer of the exponents of ... "

On the Rumor of Functional Perfection

FROM THE TEXT: "The idea of functional perfection is an intriguing concept. Would it not be wonderful if the things we use functioned perfectly? Well ... it certainly would ... but, then, what do we actually mean by perfectly? ... "

reviews and review articles

Godt grunnlag for OL-design
[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: "Det i pressen flere ganger omtalte Grunnlaget for designprogrammet for OL i Lillehammer ble presentert for fagfolk utenfor selve LOOC under seminaret 'Designprofil og arkitektur til OL-94' i Hotel Scandinavia i Oslo 11. 6. 1990. Offisielt heter rapporten Visuell profil for OL'94, Lillehammer: Grunnlag for et designprogram, og er utarbeidet av en konsulentgruppe under ledelse ... "

[Review of]
Väkevä, Seppo, ed.
Product Semantics '89.
Helsinki: Publications of the University of Industrial Arts UIAH A4, 1990.
Vihma, Susann, ed.
Semantic Visions in Design.
Helsinki: Publications of the University of Industrial Arts UIAH A7, 1990.

FROM THE TEXT: "The conference and symposium on design semantics which resulted in the above two volumes, were arranged by one of the most internationally active design schools in Scandinavia (if not the most active), the University of Industrial Arts in Helsinki, led by its wonderfully enterprising dean Yrjö Sotamaa. Its proceedings are but two of a long line of the school's design-related publications in Finnish, Swedish, German, and English which the institution has published since the mid 1980s. With regard to the expected novelty of approach the conference volume is, however, ... "

Taking Taste Seriously:
Peter Lloyd Jones on the Role of Appreciation in Consumerism and Design


FROM THE TEXT: "Peter Lloyd Jones’ book Taste Today can be seen as the most vigorous attempt so far to take seriously the fact that the notion of Taste is back at the centre of stage, that it in fact has been there, surreptitiously, all the time, and that it is there to stay. A true intellectual tour de force, Lloyd Jones’ book provides ... "

[Review of]
Widengren, Gunilla, ed. (1994)
Tanken och handen: Konstfack 150 ĺr.
Stockholm: Page One Publishing

FROM THE TEXT: "It is important that art and design schools publish such information about themselves from time to time. Such publications can be seen as long term investments able to invigorate both the individual identity of the school and its public image. From this point of view it was a wise and commendable decision on the part of Konstfack to invest so much into a publication of this scale. It is very important, though ... "

[Review of ]
Marianne Aav and Nina Stritzler-Levine, eds.
Finnish Modern Design: Utopian Ideals and Everyday Realities, 1930-1997.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, 411 pages.

FROM THE TEXT: "The book is important for several reasons. In its first part the editors have succeeded in producing a collection of ten up-to-date essays discussing many aspects and most of the fields of Finnish design over the past hundred years or so, all of them furnished with an extensive end-note apparatus with ample bibliographical material, and written (presumably) by a younger generation of writers on design. The second part of the book ... "

Ett tjeckisk mĺste
[A short review of]
Český design/Czech Design 1995-2000,
Product selection and introduction by Jiří Pelcl,
edited by Dagmar Vernerová
Praha: Prostor, 2002.
[in Swedish]

FRĹN TEKSTEN: "Om du är intresserad av den tjeckiska designutvecklingen under de senaste 50 ĺren är boken Český design/Czech Design 1995-2000 en ypperlig, informativ vägledning. Boken har sitt huvudfokus pĺ en visuell presentation av produkter designade av tjeckiska designer under 1990-talets senare hälft. Det tidigare Tjeckoslovakien, som dagens Tjeckien fram till i början av samma decennium var en del av, var ett av de länder som ... "

[Review of ]
Thomas Dickson,
Designforskning - en international oversigt
Aarhus: Arkitektskolens Forlag, 1992, 205 pages.

FROM THE TEXT: "You are in for a disappointment if you happen to believe that this book (whose title in English would be Design Research: An International Overview) is about the content of design research - that it provides an outline of foreign design research in the sense of presenting and discussing the most common positions and disagreements, various types of problem formulations, new insights and fresh approaches ... "

First things first - or OUR things first?
A polemical review of the Design Manifesto
First things first 2000.

FROM THE TEXT: " ... a manifestation of problems experienced by a profession which does not suffer from unemployment, which enjoys considerable social prestige, whose services are among the best paid – and whose members, having long ago solved their survival problems, are visited with existential ones. As a whole the design Manifesto gives the impression of a private grievance of a group of sated, prosperous, and politically correct professionals. (...)"

essays, articles and comments

Om status, konkurranse, funksjonalisme og industri
[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: "Hvorfor er det egentlig ikke tilstrekkelig at gjenstander funksjonerer som de skal? Hvorfor har mennesker alltid vćrt villige - sĺ sant de hadde rĺd - til ĺ betale ekstra for bruksting med tiltalende form? (Vi kan ogsĺ si "pen" form; da mener vi det som mennesker selv regner som pent.) At vi alle foretrekker tiltalende former pĺ de ting vi eier, syns ĺ vćre en konsekvens av nettopp det ĺ ... "

Modernismus versus historismus dnes
Myšlenky o nutnosti překonání jednoho podmíněného reflexu

[in Czech / 1980]

Z TEXTU: "Zamyslíme-li se nad dosavadním sporadickým zájmem našeho dějepisu umění o architekturu 19. století, nebude snad přehnané, řekneme-li, že spíše než uměleckohistorické nadšení zde bylo ve většině připadů motivem něco, co by se dalo nazvat uměleckohistorickou slušností k období, které .... " [text bez diakritiky]

Regulace estetické kvality a soutěž
[in Czech]

Z TEXTU: "Vážený pane redaktore, kladete otázku, zda je nutná regulace estetické kvality vyrobků v zemi, kde neexistuje instituce uměleckých komisí, jaké - jak píšete - u nás byly, ale asi už nebudou, a zda se lze spoléhat pouze na ... " [text bez diakritiky]

Alvar Aalto:
Savoy Vase, 1936


FROM THE TEXT: "The Savoy vase belongs to the best-known products of Finnish designers. For many people the glass vase, with its asymmetric shape and freely curving tapering walls represents the quintessential qualities of Finnish design: originality, straightforwardness, and aesthetic sophistication.

Why design?

FROM THE TEXT: "Perhaps the best way of learning what the phenomenon of design is about is to analyze what goes on in our heads when we buy new things. Why is it that we want our belongings to do more for us than to function well? Why are we willing, as soon as we can afford it, to pay extra for things with appealing forms? The answer, we will find, is that ... "

Fredrik Wildhagen 1939-1992
[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: " (...) I 1983 stiftet han og bygget opp noe han kalte Nordisk forum for formgivningshistorie. Det har blitt en regelmessig faglig plattform for nordiske formgivningshistorikere, med temakonferanser annet hvert ĺr. Wildhagen hadde omfattende utenlandsk kontaktnett og var godt og tidlig informert om nye retninger i design ... "

[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: " ... utvikling og planlegging av industrielt fremstilte produkter med tanke pĺ ĺ gjřre dem tiltalende for brukeren. Prosessen foregĺr fřr selve produksjonen begynner og inkluderer utforming av produktets funksjonelle sider og bruksegenskaper, utseende, og tilretteleggelse av produktet for masseproduksjon, distribusjon og salg. Estetisk utforming av produktet er skjelden indutridesignerens eneste bidrag men ... "

Příběh vázy Savoy:
Design Alvar Aalto, 1936

[in Czech]

Z TEXTU: "Tato skleněná váza neobvyklých proporcí i tvarů dostala jméno podle nové luxusní restaurace v centru Helsinek, zvané Savoy, otevřené v roce 1937, pro niž Alvar Aalto se svou ženou Aino navrhl specielní nábytek a vybavení. Restaurace byla umístěna v nejvyšším poschodí ... " [text bez diakritiky]

Kan begrensninger av kunstens frihet vćre en del av kunsten?
To kritiske blikk pĺ ideen om den autonome kunst

[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: "I lřpet av de siste hundre ĺr har det i den vestlige verden bredt seg en oppfatning om at kunst i sin natur er en anti-konvensjonell aktivitet; at kunstnerens oppgave er ĺ bryte grenser; at originalitet er det store kunstverkets kjennetegn; og at den střrste prestasjon kunstnere har oppnĺdd i sin streben etter kunstnerisk autonomi, har vćrt ĺ riste av seg oppdragsgiveren, som angivelig sto i veien for alt dette. Denne filosofien ... "

Bakom ordet design
[in Norwegian]

FRA TEKSTEN: "Det allestedsnćrvćrende ordet design er som kjent et fremmedord importert fra engelsk. Det har vćrt en del av det norske fagsprĺket i omtrent tre siste generasjoner. I motsetning til norsk, der ordet har fungert kun som et faguttrykk, brukes ordet design pĺ engelsk ogsĺ i dagligdagse tale. Man kan lese setninger som: ”Was Michael Jackson’s skin changed by disease or by design? Eller ... "

Culinary history versus cookbook:
Does the discipline of art history function as an instruction manual?


FROM THE TEXT: " ... in teaching art history there is no methodological approach that would explicitly take into consideration the difference between an academic and a practicing type of audience – despite the fact that the number of students from the ranks of future artists have probably always been higher than that of the academic audience. The difference between the two is that, in contrast to the academic audience, the art school students have a natural inclination to regard historical information about the origin of art works as practical hints: a culinary history tends to be perceived as a cookbook ... "

Am I just seeing things - or is the modernist apartheid regime still in place?

FROM THE TEXT: " ... things will probably truly change only when we have understood that our inherited picture of modernism in general and of functionalism in particular is almost entirely wrong: that modernism was not about modernity, and functionalism was not about functioning. On the contrary: modernists rejected the very heart of modernity: its diversity, its individualism and its pluralism, while functionalists were consumed by their formalist desires. We should understand that in their thinking modernists and functionalists were distinctly pre-pluralist, pre-tolerant - and in many ways pre-modern ... "

Online articles IN ENGLISH only // Online articles IN NORWEGIAN only // Online articles IN CZECH only
Jan Michl's select bibliography
Links to websites with design-related online texts
Workplace: Arkitektur- og designhřgskolen i Oslo, Institutt for Industridesign
Online since June 1998; last updated/modified: February 25, 2008

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