Soviet Design: Where State Meets Creativity

Tatsiana Artsemiuk

UI Designer

The FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia this month. While most of the focus is on the football, we should not overlook the Russian contribution to Design. Some of the most interesting developments in Russian Design took place under the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR). The Soviet Union extended its reach into every aspect of society, including Design. But what exactly was Soviet Design, how did the State play a role in it and what were the results?

A poster giving an example of Soviet Design

Russian Avant-Garde

Design in Russia did not begin with the Soviet Union, but it did undergo a drastic change after the 1917 Revolution. New ideas and concepts began to be explored, such as the avant-garde artists who created a new visual language. This was also the time of big ideas where utopian myths coexisted with art. Around 1920 the first examples of this appeared. Kazimir Malevich founded a new art movement named “UNOVIS” (‘Proclaimers of New Art’). While in Moscow the art and technical studying facility “VKHUTEMAS” was founded. It’s leaders were the legendary Rodchenko, Lavinsky, Tatlin who later became known as the “Group of constructivist”.

The combination of all of these Design pioneers working together resulted in an explosion of creativity. Changes and advancements took place across many different fields creating new types of graphic (posters), editorial (books), architectural, porcelain and agitational Design. From all of this began “organised design” which later on transformed into “technical aesthetics”.  This new term described a multidisciplinary science which was based on the systematised studies on the interaction of aesthetic, sociological, technical and other problems.

Examples of Soviet Design

“VNIITE”

In 1962 the next uprising in Soviet Design occurred. The Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union issued a decree which was for the “improvement of product quality in mechanical engineering field and goods of domestic usage by bringing methods of artistic constructions.” “Artistic construction”, like “technical aesthetics”, is the USSR equivalent term for the word Design. The main result of this decree was the establishment of VNIITE, an institute of technical aesthetics.

VNIITE was not just one institute in isolation, but rather at the head of an interconnected system of Design organisations. Other branches of VNIITE existed in nearly every Soviet Republic, and even within some of the Soviet enterprises. The main office of VNIITE was in Moscow with others in St Petersburg (Leningrad), Armenia, Belarus, Vilnius, Georgia, Kiev, etc. Each of these separate offices focused on a specific industry and dealt with problems that impacted within their specific fields. St Petersburg dealt with machinery tools, Kiev device and electronics, Vilnius industrial interiors and environmental improvement, Minsk tractors and farm machinery and so on.

Soviet Design Technology

The Influence Of VNIITE

VNIITE was funded by the Soviet government and there was an element of plagiarism, Design espionage and lack of styling to it and its work. The institute was unique in that it created Design programmes and standards for the entire Soviet Union. VNIITE and it’s institutions held the scientific and methodological lead over all fields of work. It devised new systems and approaches based on what it observed through international and local experiences. These new approaches were in the fields of industrial ergonomics, socio‐economic research, product testing, decorative materials and finishes, information and documentation.

There was a level of innovation to it, and some of its projects were ahead of their time, even by Western standards. It produced a lot of intriguing prototypes. For example, the small and environmentally sound car known as “the Ant” (Muravei). Or a well-designed recycling system for the 180,000 inhabitants of the Moldavian city of Beltsy (which stayed as a prototype). It covered not only how and where the refuse would be recycled but also the whole system of collecting the goods, uniforms for workers and so on. VNIITE continued after the fall of the Soviet Union and finally closed in 2013.

Soviet Design Taxi

Soviet Design

We have just touched on some of the history of Soviet Design. Design, and innovation within it, did not stop in Russia with the fall of the monarchy. New systems and techniques emerged during this time. Furthermore, the State began to show an interest in, and recognised the value of, Design. VNIITE applied Design standards across a very large group of countries, across many different fields on behalf of the State. The Soviet Union demonstrated that Design applies everywhere, and can have an impact on all aspects of life.

At Graphic Mint we follow our own Design systems when we work on our varied projects. We also believe good Design applies to everything and are not afraid to tackle new challenges. Our Portfolio has examples of some of the exciting projects we have worked on. Contact us today so we can begin our Design journey together.