In 1966 I showed colour slides of the radio at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung, at Ulm in Germany. It was interesting to me that nearly all the professors walked out (in protest against the radio's 'ugliness' and its lack of 'formal' design), but all the students stayed. Of course, the radio is ugly. But there is a reason for this ugliness. It would have been simple to paint it ('grey', as the people at Ulm suggested). But painting it would have been wrong. For one thing, it would have raised the price of each unit by maybe one-twentieth of a penny each, which is a great deal of money when millions of radios are built. Secondly, and much more importantly, I feel that I have no right to make aesthetic or 'good taste' decisions that will affect millions of people in Indonesia, who are members of a different culture.
The people in Indonesia have taken to decorating their tin-can radios by pasting pieces of coloured felt or paper, pieces of glass, and shells on the outside and making patterns of small holes towards the upper edge of the can. In this way it has been possible to by-pass 'good taste', design directly for the needs of the people, and 'build in' a chance for the people to make the design truly their own.
This is a new way of making design both more participatory and more responsive to people in the Third World. It is true that during the fifties some large design offices, such as Chapman & Yamasaki of Chicago, Joe Carreiro of Philadelphia, and others, performed design development work in under- developed countries at the request of the State Department. But their work was largely in the area of helping young nations to design and manufacture objects that would appeal to the American consumer. In other words, they did not design for the needs of the people of Israel, Ecuador, Turkey, Mexico, etc., but rather for the fancied wants of American purchasers.
Our townscape as well bears the stamp of irresponsible design. Look through the train window as you approach New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles. Observe the miles of anonymous tenements, the dingy, twisted streets full of cooped-up, unhappy children. Pick your way carefully through the filth and litter that mark our downtowns or walk past the monotonous ranch houses of suburbia where myriad picture windows grin their empty invitation, their tele-viscous promise. Breathe the cancer-inducing exhaust of factory and car, watch the strontium- 90 enriched snow, listen to the idiot roar of the subway, the squealing brakes. And in the ghastly glare of the neon signs, under the spiky TV aerials, remember, this is our custom-designed environment.