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National Design and Desenho Industrial: Brazilian issues in historical perspective



Today, there is a mismatch between the practice and the understanding of ‘design’ inside and outside Brazil. While the meaning of the term began to expand from the 1960's onwards across the world, the effects of a semantic and conceptual restriction are constantly challenging the very notion of ‘design’ in Brazil. This is quite evident due to differences between Brazilian design research and the international debate on design issues. There are multiple and complex causes for this phenomenon. In any case, we must return to the time when the activity in its modern way was established in the country in the 1950's. That was a period of intense industrial expansion associated to nationalism, identified as 'national developmentalism' – and the arriving of ‘industrial design’ as ‘desenho industrial’. This return to a historical time seeks to understand not only the translation of the American industrial design and the influence of the German model of Ulm in the creation of the first Brazilian institutions of design education, but also the singularities and difficulties encountered since then. Also in the 1950's, following an international trend, planning practice emerges in public and private spheres, affecting the broader understanding of the field of design (or projeto).
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National Design and Desenho Industrial:
Brazilian Issues in Historical Perspective
Lucas do M. N. Cunha
Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
Felipe Kaizer
Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
João de Souza Leite
Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
Design history / Design concepts / Planning and designing / Brazil
Today, there is a mismatch between the practice and
the understanding of ‘design’ inside and outside Bra-
zil. While the meaning of the term began to expand
from the 1960s onwards across the world, the effects
of a semantic and conceptual restriction are constant-
ly challenging the very notion of ‘design’ in Brazil. This
is quite evident due to differences between Brazilian
design research and the international debate on de-
sign issues. There are m ultiple and complex causes for
this phenomenon. In any case, we must return to the
time when the activity in its modern way was estab-
lished in the country in the 1950s. That was a period
of intense indus trial expansion associated with nation-
alism, identified as ‘national-developmentalism’—and
the arriving of ‘industrial design’ as ‘desenho industrial’.
This return to a historical time seeks to understand
not only the translation of the American industrial de-
sign and the influence of the German model of Ulm in
the creation of the first Brazilian institutions of design
education, but also the singularities and difficulties
encountered since then. Also in the 1950s, following
an international trend, planning practice emerges in
public and private spheres, affecting the broader un-
derstanding of the field of design (or projeto).
In Brazil, the noun ‘design’ does not have the same meaning as
in other parts of the world. At the international level, in the last
40 years, debates on design deal with a productive activity—that
is, mainly, a verbcapable of altering the future state of things
according to predetermined goals. Having emerged from the
practice of trades and ranging from the casting of graphic types
and printing to the increasing needs imposed by the transfor-
mations in the productive processes of the 18th century, today
design, as an expanded field, is a practice and knowledge shared
by professionals in multiple areas, and its dissemination inside
organizations and in the establishment of public policies is
growing, leading to an intense diversity of actions. In contrast,
the understanding of design in Brazil has changed very little
since the 1960s. In fact, in the Brazilian context, “design” still
means, at its very best understanding, a distinct professional
practice—that is, a noun—set apart from other design activities,
such as architecture and engineering.
A Brazilian Story
The reasons for the peculiar meaning of design in Brazil are
diverse. It is certain, however, that a study of the possible causes
of this mismatch leads to the arrival of the notion of industrial
design in the country in the 1950s. This is a key moment in
Brazil’s shifting towards a new role in the global economy, pre-
cisely when the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek promoted a
policy for industrial modernization known as national-develop-
mentalism (nacional-desenvolvimentismo). Kubitschek’s Goals
Plan (Plano de Metas) can be seen as the culmination of a long
process of modernization and industrialization initiated in 1930,
with the arrival of Getúlio Vargas to public power. Milestones of
this process are the founding of Companhia Siderúrgica Nacion-
al in 1941 and Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento in 1952. An-
nounced in 1956, the Plan followed the general guidelines of
cepal, initials for Comissão Econômica para a América Latina e
o Caribe (Colistete, 2001), and established high goals for pro-
duction in several sectors. It is after all mostly successful (Lafer,
2002: 27), regardless of inflation (Lessa, 1981: 10).
In cultural terms and through the arts scene, 1951 is the year
of the first International Art Biennial of São Paulo held by the
Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (mam–sp). In the same
year, the São Paulo Museum of Art (masp) presented the first
international retrospective exhibition of the work of designer,
architect and sculptor Max Bill, with a huge reverberation spe-
cially among graphic designers such as Alexandre Wollner e
Antônio Maluf, who integrated an art group named ‘Ruptura’.
This is a Portuguese word for ‘disruption’, for they were practic-
ing an abstract art immediately linked to Concrete Art, as
named many years before by Van Doesburg. Five years later, the
National Contest for the Pilot Plan of Brazil’s New Capital,
Brasília, was won by the architect and urban designer Lucio
Costa. By then, modern Brazilian architecture was gaining a
definitive international recognition and the practice of plan-
ning expanded to other territories, beginning to guide actions
in politics and public administration,1 at least in a modest way.
In a time of internationalization of the term ‘design’, Italy
and Brazil are examples of countries where industrial design
settled definitively only after the Second World War: in the first
case, the American model was a real reference, in the second case,
the German one. The Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (HfG
Ulm) served partially as a model for the founding of Escola
Superior de Desenho Industrial (esdi) in Rio de Janeiro in 1962,
and henceforth to other design education institutions in Brazil.
However, it must be said, Brazilian design education was not
strictly mastered by the notion of design as professed by HfG–
Ulm, where students were severely taught methodologies.2
Quite differently, Brazilian education was firstly organized
around professional practice and a certain style in the arts de-
rived from Concrete Art.
At the founding of esdi, ‘desenho industrial’ was already the
translation in use for ‘industrial design’. At that time, debates
[1] Roberto Campos, “A experiência brasileira de planejamento”, in Simonsen, 1976: 47. [2] As Tomá s Maldonado put s it, citin g Charles San ders Peirce, H fG–Ulm cou ld be transfor med
into a “university of methods” (Maldonado, 196 6).
154 Back to the Future [icdhs 10th + 1 C onfe rence] Proceedings Book
[3] This was suggested by Antonio Houaiss in a
letter to Brazilian designer Aloisio Magalhães,
in the early 1970s.
[4] CIAM: “Congrès internationaux d’architecture
moderne”—an organization founded in 1928
by European architects, among them Le Cor-
busier, Gerrit Rietveld, the Russian artist El
Lissitsky and the historian Siegfried Gideon.
about ‘design’ and its translation difficulties were aborted (Niemeyer, 2007: 26–27), and
only surfaced again in 1988, first by a national committee of school representants (Ca-
nasvieiras, 1989) and then at the 5th National Meeting of Desenhistas Industriais. Fol-
lowing the suggestion made by practitioners and educators, the Brazilian State sanc-
tioned the term ‘design’ as the official denomination of the professional activity. Howev-
er, no discussion on the change of meaning took place. In effect, ‘design’ still means
exactly the same as ‘desenho industrial’ as understood in the 1960s.
Things could be different if the suggestion of the neologism ‘projética’, conceived by
Brazilian philologist Antonio Houaiss in the 1970s,3 was adopted. It pointed to a broader
understanding of the activity and tried to offset the sense of ‘drawing’ present in ‘desenho’,
which may have led to an excessive identification of desenhistas industriais with visual artists
and technical draughtsmen. A result of that misconception is that, until nowadays, Brazil-
ian designers are seen by others and by themselves as a distinct professional class, in spite
of the close historical relations between architecture, engineering, fashion and all others
forms of art and production, and the recent broadening of the term, now in use also by
managers and policy-makers. For all intents and purposes, ‘design’ in Brazil still refers
mainly to the practice of product and graphic designers.
Post-War Management and Planning
At the time of the arrival of modern design in Brazil, we witnessed the establishment of the
concept of planning at the international level.
After World War II, the consolidation of the European and American welfare state was
accompanied by the rise of large multinational corporations, driven by the wide supply
of high-quality industrialized products and investment in technological development.
Industrial complexes, no longer dedicated to the war effort, adapted to a new consumer
society. This was also the moment when the greatest expression of modernity in archi-
tecture and the arts—the urban planning promulgated by groups such as ciam 4 loosed
space for another character of planning: strategic planning. In this type of planning, strat-
egies should result from a formal and controlled process, divided into distinct steps,
delimited by checklists and supported by techniques (Ahlstrand, Lampel and Mintz-
berg, 2001). The 1960s watched the remodeling of administrative theory founded at the
beginning of the century by Frederick W. Taylor and Jules Henri Fayol.
One of the second-generation exponents of man-
agement theory was Herbert A. Simon. His studies
both on decision-making and the sciences of the
artificial prepared the ground for future under-
standing of design in the context of organizations
(Simon, 1996). Simon’s early work, Administrative
Behavior (1997), mainly concerns the behavior of
large organizations, exploring decision-making pro-
cesses as a method to determine better satisfying
courses of action. Nevertheless, the end of the
1960s also represented a deadlock for the logic of
vertical and centralized planning, as economic and
social policies find resistance from the arising civil
movements. Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber broad-
casted a new understanding of planning problems
as they articulated the inner contradictions of prob-
lem-solving when social patterns were presented in
a fragmented and constantly litigated manner and
named “wicked” the problems of a new order of
complexity (Rittel & Webber, 1973).
In the early 1970s, the world was almost knocked-
down by a major economic crisis, accentuated by
the oil embargo of 1973. The model of social welfare
was placed under intense debate concerning its eco-
1.2 Designing the Histories of Southern Designs
nomic, social and administrative dimensions. The Weberian bureaucratic
model of the state gradually declined, leading to the adoption of managerial
standards in public administration more common to the private sector, such
as performance reviews, subcontracting and competition (Abrucio, 1997).
This approach between these sectors established an ideological movement
based on managerial precepts: the New Public Administration (npm), which
mirrors structures of the private sector (Osborne & McLaughlin, 2002). In
this context, the fragmentation of the design processes was intensified
through the multiplication of numerous specialized services.
Managing Design and Managing as Designing
The 1970s consequently watched the ascent of design management as a com-
petitive resource, grounded in marketing principles amidst the global transi-
tion to a service economy (Julier, 2010). Example of that is the work done by
Robert Blaich for Herman Miller and Philips beginning in the 1960s (Blaich
and Bl aich, 1993). From the 1990s onwards, design institutions such as the
British Design Council move away from the purely industrial design concept,
addressing issues of public interest as the role of design in health, education
and the provision of public services. The relationship between design and
management evolves over the following decades and brings forth the idea of
“managing as designing” (Boland et al., 2004). This was accompanied by the
concept of new orders of design, surpassing those defined historically by prod-
uct and graphic design (Buchanan, 1992). Richard Buchanan refers to the de-
sign of systems and environments as the ‘fourth order of design’ (Idem).5
In this scenario, the image of the designer as an artist attached to industry
and follower of the Modern Movement is bound to rethink his own social po-
sition. What role can this new professional play in organizational deci-
sion-making and planning structures? What training should he receive and
which skills does he need to develop? No longer a hierarchical art professional
—entitled to dispatch orders to executive bodies—this new designer concep-
tion can now perform an integrative role in organizations (Buchanan, 1992),
linked to collaborative processes and able to take on diverse functions in dif-
[5] Buchanan (1992) formulated the idea of ‘four orders of design’ as disposed through time,
where “The first order of design is communication with symbols and images. The second
order of design is design of artef acts as in engineering, architec ture, and mass production .
In the middle of the 20th century we realised that we can also design activities and pro-
cesse s. […] That ’s the third order of d esign. […] The fourth order of design is the desig n of
the environments and systems within which all the other orders of design exist”.
[6] There are circa 750 de sign courses in Brazil, and still one cannot note it s capacity and, one
can say, will to promote change in Brazilian society.
vision of the process of the emergence and
consolidation of the concept of design in the
country. This review brings us immediately
to the heyday of the projeto nacional de desen-
volvimento, that is, a national development
design in the 1950s.
In general terms, a ‘national design’
amounts to a capacity to collectively define and
put into effect plans and designs. It depends
fundamentally on the agreement on ideas, val-
ues and policies enabled by a culture of plan-
ning and designing shared by a plurality of social
agents. We can notice the first manifestation
of this culture between the 1930 and 1980,
when the country enjoyed high rates of eco-
nomic growth (Bresser-Pereira, 2014: 9).
The recovery of the larger sense of a national
design—and from which no peripheral coun-
try can shirk from in the face of constant glob-
al rearrangements—offers a fresh perspective
to the debate on design and planning in Brazil.
That being said, a ‘national design’ is funda-
mentally a design for the nation, i.e., a process
for determining its future or so-called “desti-
ny” (Souza Leite, 2017: 9). This process con-
cerns not only technological and economic
development, but it is also of a political and
social character.
Considerations Regarding Future Studies
What we propose is a conceptual-historical in-
vestigation of the development of the concepts
of design and planning in Brazil, considering
a possible new role for design professionals in
the world of organizations, whether public or
private. What initially encourages this re-
search is the sign of a growing gap between
the debates inside and outside the country on
the meaning of design. Unlike previous times,
however, we do not intend to simply import
theoretical and educational models, but to
provide a sounder theoretical basis to the cre-
ation of a Brazilian sense of design in concert
with a renewed culture of planning and de-
signing. And doing so, this debate proposition
can be of good help to improve in some meas-
ure the models of design education usually in
practice throughout the country.
ferent decision-making bodies.
From desenho industrial to projeto nacional
In contrast to the state-of-the-art of design
research, the adoption of the name ‘design’
in Brazil throughout the 1970s and 1980s
was based on media coverage and discourse
(Canasvieiras, 1989). In this context, ‘de-
sign’ corresponds most of the time to an ad-
jective attributed to a certain class of prod-
ucts. And in spite of the multiplication of
design educational institutions throughout
the whole national territory,6 the prospect of
updating the professional activity to the new
economic and social circumstances practiced
broadly and intensely on the international
scene takes no hold in Brazil. In this sense,
the framework for redesigning design prac-
tice needs to be accompanied by a critical re-
156 Back to the Future [icdhs 10th + 1 Con ference] Proceedings Book
Abrucio, F. L. (1997). “O impacto do modelo gerencial na Administração Pública: Um breve
estudo sobre a experiência internacional recente”. Cadernos ENAP, 10: 1–50. Brasília:
Fundação Escola Nacional de Administração Pública.
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Wilds of Strategic Management. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Blaich, R.; Blaich, J. (1993). Product Desig n and Corporate Strategy: Managing the Connection
for Competitive Advantage. New York: McGraw–Hill.
Boland, R. J; Collopy, F. (org.). (2004). Managing as Designing. Redwood City, CA: Stanford
University Press.
Bresser-Pereira, L. C. (2014). A construção política do Brasil. São Paulo: Editora 34.
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bridge, MA: The MIT Press.
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versidade de São Paulo.
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João de Souza Leite is head of the Graduate Pro-
gram in Design of the State Universit y of Rio de
Janeiro, at Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial
(PPDEsdi). A lecturer and exhibition curator, he is
mostly concerned with design education and re-
search on design history and theory.
Lucas do Monti Nascimento Cunha is a doctor-
ate student in Design at the State University of Rio
de Janeiro, at Escola Superior de Desenho Indus-
trial (PPDEsdi), and adjunct professor in the Adver-
tising Undergraduate Program at Castelo Branco
University (ucb). He currently dedicates himself to
design research on public organizations, processes
and systems as a subject matter.
Felipe Kaizer is graduated in Design from Pontifí-
cia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (puc
Rio) and is currently a graphic designer and re-
searcher pursuing a doc torate at Escola Superior
de Desenho Industrial (esdi/ue rj). His studies are
mainly concerned with design theory and the con-
cept of political action.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Drawing is also research. As a contribution to design criticism, this paper aims to exemplify design practice as a laboratory of innovation (production of knowledge). We based the analysis of the work of the graphic designer João Machado (Portugal, 1942) on design ontology, bringing to this reflection questions about the nature of design research and of the production of knowledge in design as a poetic manifestation and factor of identity. Using the main theoretical contributions of Calvera, Flusser, Morris, Deleuze, Eco, Providência and Damásio and adopting semiotics to support the analysis of João Machado’s work, was an exercise that we recognized as a methodological opportunity for design criticism. We find in the general ignorance of João Machado’s work (who deliberately avoids social exposure) the opportunity for this presentation and in the quality of the work (awarded and published by the interna- tional elite) the relevance of its dissemination. This approach confirms the argument of innovation by design that, by the persistence of the shapes (ideas), confirms the knowable style of João Machado. A style of aesthetic pertinence that evokes beauty in each poster and sign, a difference that was born by alterity.
Full-text available
MORE than fifty years since its foundation, the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) continues to be a source of influence and an important research topic on the Brazilian and Latin-American economic history. Despite the enduring appeal of the cepalina theory, the scholarly studies on ECLA have done little to examine the reasons why the ECLA's underdevelopment theory was so prominent among policy makers, entrepreneurs and scholars, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. Likewise, the historiography has rarely attempted to assess ECLA's impact over other economic approaches in Latin America and Brazil in particular. This article aims to advance hypotheses about both issues, that is, the determinants of the cepalina influence during the 1950s and 1960s, and its impact on later economic approaches. The view presented in the article is that the influence exerted by ECLA is a great deal explained by the features of its theoretical and conceptual framework — it was consistent and relevant, on the one hand, and ambiguous and vague, on the other. The article also argues that the cepalina theory was and continues to be influential among economic approaches in Brazil. The article addresses two approaches, the dependency theory and the late capitalism theory, and maintains that both took over some central features which marked the ECLA theory — the emphasis on structures, the minor role of social actors, the stress on a macro perspective and the development of a formal view of history.
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
The period of the United Kingdom's Labour government, 1997–2010, saw two strident policy vectors. One was in the promotion of the creative industries as a lever for urban regeneration and national renewal in the face of the decline of its manufacturing base and the globalisation of its economy. The second was in the increased emphasis on financialisation to underpin both corporate and public sectors. Both of these were, in fact, intensifications of former Conservative policies developed through the early 1990s. This paper reviews some changes in the UK government policy on design, principally through its Design Council, as a function of the political economy during this period. It draws attention to important shifts in the professional practice of design and governmental promotion and use thereof—especially of service design and “design thinking”—that suggest a new attitudinal approach as to its role. It then places these shifts next to changes in public sector management and thinking. In particular, we see how certain conceptions and practices of design become embedded in its signalling of value in potentia rather than in putting value into things.
The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, becuase of the nature of these problems. They are wicked problems, whereas science has developed to deal with tame problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about optimal solutions to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no solutions in the sense of definitive and objective answers.
Managing as Designing explores “the design attitude,” a new focus for analysis and decision making for managers that draws on examples of decision making and leadership in architecture, art, and design. Based on a series of conference papers given at the opening of the Peter B. Lewis Building (designed by Frank Gehry) at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, the book includes keynote speeches from Frank Gehry and Karl Weick. The premise of this book is that managers should act not only as decision makers, but also as designers. Though decision and design are inextricably linked in management action, managers and scholars have too long emphasized the decision face of management over the design face. In a series of essays from a multitude of disciplines, the authors develop a theory of the design attitude in contrast to the more traditionally accepted and practiced decision attitude. The book will appeal primarily to scholars of management theory and organization strategy and managers, with many contributions from a variety of academic backgrounds including architecture, sociology, design, history, choreography, strategy, economics, music, and accounting. There is a potential for strong crossover appeal to these groups, especially to those people and groups interested in design and product development.
O impacto do modelo gerencial na Administração Pública: Um breve estudo sobre a experiência internacional recente
  • F L Abrucio
Abrucio, F. L. (1997). "O impacto do modelo gerencial na Administração Pública: Um breve estudo sobre a experiência internacional recente". Cadernos ENAP, 10: 1-50. Brasília: Fundação Escola Nacional de Administração Pública.