Paul Polak

If you don’t understand the problem you’ve set out to solve from your customers’ perspective; if your product or service won’t dramatically increase their income; and if you can’t sell 100 million of [your products], don’t bother.

Paul Polak: from

Paul Polak (1933- 2019)

From the website:

Paul Polak dedicated his life to serving the 1 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day and helping them escape from extreme poverty. Through his innovative pro-poor technologies, the organizations he founded and the ideas he spread, he made massive strides toward achieving that goal, helping over 50 million families earn their way to middle class. Paul was a brilliant doctor, entrepreneur, designer, mentor and beloved friend to people around the world, including the over 3,000 poor people he met and spent time with. He started a design revolution with “Design for the Other 90%,” a movement that has changed the way designers everywhere think about the power of their work. He wrote two books, inspired courses in multiple universities on his concept of “Ruthless Affordability,” and, for anyone who had the honor of knowing him, incited laughter with his puns and his infectious, relentless energy for ignoring “the way things have always been done” in order to make good trouble.

His books are available from:


Out of Poverty

Fact Sheet about the book:

“Revolutionary change in markets is usually based on breakthroughs in affordability and miniaturization, married to innovations in marketing and distribution.”
— from Out of Poverty by Paul Polak

“This book is full of life principles. It is the best book I have read in a long time. Out of Poverty teaches us to think simple. Paul Polak brings forward ideas and solutions that bypass government agencies and other leaden institutions. Ideas that work!”
— Paul Newman

“One of the most hopeful propositions to come along in a long time… original, ambitious, and practical.”
— Bill Clinton

Victor Papanek


Victor Papanek (1923-1998)

From the Papanek Foundation

Victor J. Papanek (1923-1998) designer, educator and author, was born in Vienna, Austria escaping to the United States in 1939 following the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany. Educated at the Cooper Union New York in architectural design, Papanek claimed to have apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1940s as well as working briefly with fellow Austrian émigré architect Frederick Kiesler.

Early on in his career be became a follower and ally of Buckminster Fuller who wrote the preface to the first English language edition of Papanek’s widely read and seminal publication Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (1971). The book’s ground-breaking ideas and uncompromising critique of contemporary, profit-drive design culture initially divided the design community. Ultimately, however, the polemic was an enormous success: translated into over 20 languages and published globally, it remains one the most widely read design books to date and has never fallen out of print.


There are many reviews of this book. It was extremely influential to many — including me. Indeed, the most important sentence of his book is, to me, the very first sentence:

“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them.”

Note that I crossed out the word “industrial” because I believe that today, the critique applies to ALL of design, not just industrial.

Papanek 1971 (I own the 2nd edition, 1984, where the quotation appears on page ix. It is also the first sentence of the 1971 edition.)

He has other books, my favorite being Why Things Don’t Work, but Design for the Real World is of greatest value today.