Design theory, still in its infancy, has many competing perspectives defining it’s domain and scope. Overbeeke argues that designers need to focus mainly on the beauty of the interaction of their products. Papanek instead believes that designers need to remove their learned, limited, and inhibiting factors for more effective generation of new ideas. While it is important to factor the aesthetics of interaction as Overbeeke suggests, it is significantly more important that designers to heed to Papenek’s call to focus on removing their creative blocks so they can more effectively solve problems that matter.
Overbeeke’s call for designers to build interactions that respect their users should not be overlooked. His perspective of design involves viewing a human being in a holistic manner which considers both emotions and perceptual motor skills. This leads to designs that help preserve the dignity of the user in ways that merely utilitarian designs may lack. Overbeeke also focuses on increasing human enjoyment which is important to consider.
However, Overbeeke’s main shortfall is that he fails to discriminate between design problems of importance and problems of a superficial nature. His examples for a better office chair, pager, and scheduler are exciting to read about but soon feel shallow and pointless upon closer inspection. His over-emphasis of the ‘beauty of interaction’ over practical problem solving fails to move designers past the point of frivolous aestheticism that many designers are currently stuck at.
Papenek is instead concerned with problems of significant social impact. He notes that “to ‘sex up’ objects makes no sense in a world in which basic need for design is very real.” He argues that the main way to address society’s increasingly complex issues is to reduce the cultural, emotional, and associational blocks that designers are burdened with. For example, he argues that rejecting the taboo around human waste could lead to better methane powered energy production. Once we are able to remove these blocks, designers will be able to generate creative ideas that address the root of problems and produce new solutions.
While designers need to consider their users holistically, it’s of considerably greater importance that they address problems of real social significance. While Overbeeke’s perspective leads to beautiful but frivolous interactions with VCRs, Papenek’s arguments lead to designers who are freed to confront difficult and complex social issues in increasingly innovative ways.