In order to find out whether "the core actitivites" that constitute our canon of design history "have changed" or not - we need to look closer at what constitutes that very canon.
In the literature, the standard account of design is usually linked to increased sales curves. When applying the market economy as a model, the hitherto most frequently used model in design studies, Eastern Bloc designers come to resemble little more than embarrassing imitators of their more advanced Western counterparts.
So far, the countries behind the iron curtain have been invisible in the design literature. Is the reason for this because design did not play any role at all in these countries? But what if it did - what tools would be required to make this design visible on its own terms? And could it even be so that there is something for us to be learned from the design experience from behind the iron curtain?
This paper will present VNIITE, the Federal Scientific Research Institute for Technical Esthetics, the only design institute in the Soviet Union and the biggest research institute for design world-wide. VNIITE, founded in Moscow in 1962, promoted a new attitude towards industrial production. A short introduction will be given to the prerequisites of the institute as well as of its major ideas. Informed by sources that include studies on technology as well as on economics and culture it will give an alternative perspective as to how the Soviet Union tackled the competition to “catch up and surpass America”.