Gui Bonsiepe: The Disobedience of Design

Edited by Lara Penin


This book is long overdue in a contemporary English edition. The figure of Guy Bonsiepe, a mainstay in Latin and South American design culture, is little known in English-language design literature. If one of the reasons for this is Bonsiepe’s focus on “ design in the periphery”, the present cultural moment, with its emphatic interest in diversity and inclusion, brings a new relevance to his sphere of interest. Presenting, for the first time an extensive selection of Bonsiepe’s papers in English The Disobedience of Design offers a helpful entry point into this timely discourse. But the book also does more than this. Chronologically, it charts a cultural bridge between generations, spanning from design discourse of the Ulm School to the issues of early twenty-first century. Even more crucially, in presenting design as a transdisciplinary creative effort it provides valuable insights on the contested relationship between design praxis, design theory, and design research.

—Constantin Boym, designer and Chair of the Department of Industrial Design, Pratt Institute, New York.

Gui Bonsiepe is one of the most important designers, design educators and design thinkers who remains largely “unknown” in the English speaking world. Widely published and acclaimed in Europe and South America, the only English language volume of his work was a small print run translation of his book Interface: An Approach to Design (1999). By contrast, The Disobedience of Design is an extended and comprehensive presentation of Bonsiepe’s work in English. Ranging from 1965 to 2018, and from ulm to South America, the forty-odd essays and projects gathered here offer profound reflections on the complexity and substance of designing.

Organized in four sections, on theory, on designing “in the periphery”, on visuality, cognition and language, and on design & development and projects—and augmented by critical introductions from Lara Penin, Frederico Duarte, Ethel Leon, Hugh Dubberly and Constantin Boym—the underlying exploration of Bonsiepe’s work, and one that ties his work from the early 1970s to the present and still emerging concerns, is the concept of design as interface.

Understood through, rather than in spite of, practice, Bonsiepe offers a practitioner’s comprehension of what it means to practice and think designing in the late modern world, in contexts as different as post-war Germany and contemporary South America. Juxtaposing theory and praxis and distinguished by the depth of his wider reflections on designing, his papers emphasize the relevance of design writing to professional practitioners and design students. His language and writing style are uniquely accessible to a wide audience. Thus, the book can serve as essential reading for multiple design theory and practice courses worldwide.

Gui Bonsiepe is an Argentina/Brazil based information designer, educator and author. Born in Germany in 1934, a student and then a teacher at hfg ulm (Hochschule für Gestaltung) until its closure in 1968, he participated under the direction of Tomás Maldonado amongst others in the development of a complex sign system for the interface of the Olivetti computer ELEA 9003. Since 1969 he has worked mainly in Latin America, providing consultancy and design services for public and private institutions. Before the military coup in 1973 he worked in Chile for the Allende government, most notably on the “Opsroom” for the Cybersyn project. He was vice-president of ICSID 1973-1975. Between 1987 and 1989 worked in interface and software design with Fernando Flores in California. From 1993 to 2003 he was professor for interface design at the University of Applied Sciences, Cologne, and he taught also at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht (1997-1999) and at ESDI (Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial) in Rio de Janeiro, 2003-2005. He lives and works in Brazil and Argentina. Special interests: design in peripheral countries, critical design discourse, visual rhetoric. He is the author of several books published in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, México, Spain, Korea including a trilogy of books spanning both theory and projects Cultura e sociedade (2011), Design como prática do projeto (2012), Do material ao digital (2015).