There Was Industrial design in USSR!

Interview with famous Russian and American designer Dmitry Azrikan – An individual who formed the look of Soviet design of the 70’s-80’s where he built up the profession and created the Soviet Design School.

 How did you come to this profession?

I began to think about the profession well before graduating from high school. It’s funny, but I knew what I wanted to do, not knowing about the possible existence of such a profession. Of course in those days no one in the Soviet Union had ever heard about design. Not that the word was unknown, the field of design was something unimaginable.  I thought that I wanted to be a constructor. Started studying the technology of mechanical engineering. I didn’t have any options and most of the first Soviet designers in the 60s were engineers originally.

My first years as a constructor, as I now realize I was doing technical dissent, paying great attention to form, ergonomics, everything that connects the product with the man. Nobody understood it, but I must pay tribute to my first bosses, they did not disturb me much.In 1961 RUSSIAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF TECHNICAL AESTHETICS (RRITA) was opened. I rushed to Moscow to look at what they do, and realized that I am a designer as well.Design of the Soviet Union was the second hole in the Iron Curtain. The first was jazz. Jazz was played in the cafes and design was at the RRITA. Those who were talented took part in both places.

Versatile Tape recorder, portable and static, “Saiga” The group of samples for camping, (design-program “BAMZ”). 1986


Detail of the design program “Electrometer,” 1973-1979.

Were your ideas realistic at the time?

In that time there were two designs actually. One design was in RRITA and the other one being outside of RRITA. In RRITA design originally came from Europe. Much later the Institute began searching for the domestic roots of this phenomenon. Articles about western designers including Mario Bellini, Ettore Sottsass, Roger Tallon and others by Larisa Zhadov had a huge influence on me. Dieter Rams, Thomas Maldonado, Achille Castiglione and Joe Colombo personified their designs so much that it seemed these individuals were actually the design.Unfortunately, outside all of this there was no “consumer” for the designs.

Fragments of the concept of long-term electronic equipment housing, 1986

TV receiver “Crystal”, 1988


Remote control for the television receiver “Crystal”, 1988

Design of Moscow subway train, 1987


Accommodation trailer, 1988. 


What problems were solved by designers in the Soviet Union, with almost no consumer market?

Instead of having a consumer market, there was a plan in place. Along with the plan, the country was constantly shaken by further improvement. The reason for having so many regulations was due to a variety of incidents that happened over time. For example, the American National Exhibition in 1959 was the year where Nixon shamed Khrushchev. He said: How is such a powerful country not capable of making decent products for people? Nevertheless, this was a certain kind of argument to push the movement of allowing better design activity.


What was the real problem solved by designers of the USSR in the period free of policy design?

Different designers have different problems to solve and there was one thing in common, which may not have been perceived by all. This common thing was a powerful protest of potential design. Drafts and mockups clearly said: Look at how we can do it! And now, look at what we have to produce.

Mini-tractor “Cricket”, 1989.

Cable radio, 1988 .

Electronic office “Furnitronics”, the winner of 1990 International Design Contest in Spain.

Gas Station, the International Exhibition “Car-73″, Moscow, Sokolniki, 1973


Airport cashier, 1989

In early 90’s, Dmitry moved to the US.