A Designer of Design - on Andrzej Pawłowski

Andrzej Pawłowski, telephone design, 1959, private collection, photo: Michał KortaAndrzej Pawłowski, telephone design, 1959, private collection, photo: Michał Korta

Andrzej Pawłowski was an outstanding artist who also worked in design, a field he understood in a wide capacity. His work was characterised by an ergonomic approach to his craft and an engaged attitude towards his fellow designers and society at large. 

He understood (design) as a separate discipline, a separate occupation requiring training not only in the arts, but also in scientific research. He didn't want to confuse these two fields. 'Only neophytes who have not tried to understand one or the other could assume that they are the same'.1

As a result, a new approach to the design profession was defined, and in 1964, Pawłowski organized and directed a pioneer school in Polish design at the Industrial Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. It helped to define design methodology and didactic curriculum; and he needed to define and conduct precise scientific research for himself.

The road I took to industrial design, led from interior and exhibition design, as it did for many of my colleagues. I felt a deep conviction that fine arts study […] did not constitute a sufficient basis for developing this profession.2

Pawłowski began teaching independent courses in Household Objects and Industrial Forms at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow in 1956. Before that, his designs had included interiors and furnishings for the Banialuka Puppet Theatre in Bielsko-Biała (in collaboration with Leszek Wajda and Antoni Haska, 1953). The audience seats were created so that the soft part of the armrest became a comfortable seat for children, who were raised to the height of an adult viewer.

Andrzej Pawłowski, telephone design, 1959, private collection, photo: Michał KortaAndrzej Pawłowski, telephone design, 1959, private collection, photo: Michał Korta

The organization of surroundings through the creation of user-friendly items is immediately visible in all of Pawłowski's work. He designed furniture mid-way through the 1950s that he later used to furnish his own apartment. Of particular interest is his armchair construction: a seat and a backrest woven with string to create a flexible net that conforms to the body of the user.
At the end of the 1950s, Pawłowski worked on telephone models and co-designed (together with Adam Wodnicki and Ryszard Otręba) machine tools for the metal industry. The common link between these designs is that the body encloses the interior mechanics in such a way that their structure and logic are legible. "Filled with optimism toward the power of art, I put forward that only the artist's imagination was capable of giving the often 'cold' temperature of technology basic feelings and impressions," 3 he wrote at the time. The later-formulated "questions confirming the product design," such as: "Is the steering equipment set within easy reach of the seated user?" or, "Does the placement of the equipment or the steering controls facilitate correct steering with the hands and feet?" etc., 4 are answered in the manner in which these machines are used. In these designs, which close the first stage of Pawłowski's design experiments, there is already a visible position drawing towards "the emancipation of the position of industrial designer," a profession that requires new, specialist knowledge and qualifications, and is not solely limited to tailoring appearances.

The headstock and table drill bodywork designs from 1963 are good examples of practical applications of methods from naturally shaped forms. Andrzej Pawłowski affirmed that form emerged from an authentic process conditioned by the laws of nature, like the growth of plants, the phenomenon of erosion, or surface tension determining the shape of a raindrop, and which was also attainable under artificial conditions. An elastic cover stretched over the skeleton describes the internal structure. Thus came about his study projects as part of the classes and their tasks conducted at the Industrial Design Department.

Andrzej Pawłowski, "Woven", stool made by Antoni Fic, 1954, private collection, photo: Michał Korta
Andrzej Pawłowski, "Woven", stool made by Antoni Fic, 1954, private collection, photo: Michał Korta

Pawłowski applied the same ideas in his art. The Naturally-Shaped Forms series is a classic painting frame stretched with canvas, covered with a uniform (generally silver) paint. The stretchable quality of the canvas provided a relief effect. In other (in fact, almost all) of Pawłowski's series the same principle of economy and clarity of work is visible. Pawłowski borrowed this concept from praxiology: "Conduct in accordance with praxiological notions leads to the discovery of a cause-effect chain which leads to a given goal in the simplest, most effective, and most economical way." 5 Here he referenced the praxiological ideas of Tadeusz Katarbiński.

Transferring the premises of praxiology (i.e., general methodology) to design led Pawłowski to conclude that "Design is a field that studies the relationships between a defined cause and a desired effect, a rational activity meant to bring about a concrete effect." 6 Design did not necessitate a new result. Pawłowski even postulated the necessity of eliminating, through needs analysis, certain designs as dispensable.

As Mieczysław Porębski put it, "his thought and his creativity, [were] both visionary and practical, but practical in the best sense of the word: aware of the significance of linking the past to the future, but above all designing for the user… the person. […] In didactic practice one has to 'simulate' non-existing but anticipated conditions of the future, thus crossing from the design of today's practical items to the 'design of design itself'." 7

This surely accounts for why concrete designs are fairly few in Pawłowski's oeuvre. To the above-mentioned may be added the design for self-supporting roofing made of polyester resins, a design made during a plein-air in Ustka (1972). This was a construction made from spherically cut modules, like an organic shell or bone. This design also shows the artist's predilection for "digging out the creative mysteries of nature." 8

Andrzej Pawłowski, "Woven", table made by Antoni Fic, 1954, private collection, photo: Michał Korta
Andrzej Pawłowski, "Woven", table made by Antoni Fic, 1954, private collection, photo: Michał Korta

His work on car seats commissioned by the Research and Development Center of the Low Capacity Automobile Factory in Bielsko-Biała was his last wide-scale research design (later continued by his colleagues from the Industrial Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts). His collaborators at the time reported:

"The professor's observation that data from available sources applies only to the design of hard seats and is useless for upholstered ones (there can be no angular relationships without surfaces between them) revealed a gap in his existing knowledge. The problem was inversely posed: The parameters of the seat were not the departure for design; but rather, the design dictated the parameters for the sitting position. This created an entirely new research situation that required new methods and measuring tools."9

From 1981-1985, under the supervision of Andrzej Pawłowski, over a dozen phantom-model people, sitting-position simulators, and instruments for measuring and evaluating existing and planned seats were designed and used to establish a database. "The goal was to work out a set of apparatus allowing the designer to use research results, and indirectly but above all, to improve the condition of our spines."10

Ergonomic inquiry also formed the foundation of a team design for a set of universal, manual farmer's tools in 1983-1984. No doubt Andrzej Pawłowski's youthful experience and competence as a gardener came in handy here. His response was a practical response to a particular commission, but also – and perhaps above all – to his earlier announced Apel 81, which aimed at reversing the economic crisis through simple design postulates in execution and energy-saving production. He saw the crisis as a task for the designer. He understood guiding co-workers and students towards being socially engaged as one more, and perhaps the most important, role of the designer.

Andrzej Pawłowski, table drill casing, designed with the naturally shaped forms method, 1963, private collectionAndrzej Pawłowski, table drill casing, designed with the naturally shaped forms method, 1963, private collection, photo: Michał Korta

Andrzej Pawłowski (1925–1986) was a designer who also worked in theory, methodology and teaching of industrial design, as well as exhibition and interior design. He also worked in the arts: painting, sculpture, photography, and experimental filmmaking. He invented Cinéform – moving images that created an improvised show (1956/57). He studied sculpture and interior design at the State Academy of Fine Arts; he graduated in 1950 from the Interior Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he organized the Industrial Design Department with Zbigniew Chudzikiewicz in 1963-1964, the first modern industrial design school in Poland. He served as its dean from 1964-1970, an then again in 1981. At the beginning of the 1960s he formulated his original idea of "naturally-shaped" forms, which was used in his own design and art work and in his teaching. He was the co-founder (1963) and first chairman of the Industrial Designers' Association, which he actively represented in the international forum, at congresses and on the board of the ICSID.

Author: Jan Trzupek

Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart. 

For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl


1. Mieczysław Porębski, Andrzej Pawłowski [in:] Andrzej Pawłowski, katalog wystawy, ed. J. Chrobak and M. Pawłowski, Krakow 1988, pp. 3-4
2. Andrzej Pawłowski, Autoreferat (1983) [in:] cf. Inicjacje. O sztuce, projektowaniu i kształceniu projektantów, 2001, p. 205
3. A. Pawłowski (1959), see above, p. 17
4. A. Pawłowski. Lista pytań sprawdzenia projektu produktu [in:] Fragmenty prac naukowo-badawczych kwalifikacyjnych i magisterskich. Krakow, 1966, p. 59. The letter, containing 300 questions, was an extension of the "Dortmund Letter" of 1964.
5. M. B. Jakubiak, Tadeusz Kotarbiński, filozof, nauczyciel, poeta. Warsaw 1987, p. 112.
6. A. Pawłowski, Ewolucja zawodu projektanta (1971) [in:] Inicjacje..., p. 79.
7. M. Porębski, see above.
8. A term borrowed from Artur Sandauer, Pisma zebrane, vol. II, Warsaw 1985, p. 535.
9. M. Dziedzic, J. Kolanowski, S. Półtorak, Homo sedens, "Projekt", no. 4, p. 32.
10. Ibid., p. 33


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