Communist classics: celebrating the design of the Soviet Union

New book, Designed In The USSR, is the business










Few things tell the tale of a country better than its design. 

And that was as true in communist countries of the 1970s and ’80s as it was in the Space Invaders/Sergio Tacchini tracksuit/BMX paradise of the West. 

Admittedly, the evil capitalists did do some things better (sportswear, trainers with fewer than four stripes), but there’s no doubt the Soviet Union had a proud tradition of design, as anyone who’s put a communist-era poster on the walls of their student bedroom can tell you.

Happily, there’s now a new book that celebrates this rich history. Designed In The USSR features 350 objects from the years 1950-89, and touches on everything from anti-booze posters to radios and the perhaps coolest holdall of all time. 

The pieces come from the Moscow Museum of Design – and who wouldn’t want to visit that? – and tell the tale of an outward-looking country held back by a dysfunctional operating system (Communism 1.1) and a terror the proles wouldn’t buy into the vision of whichever Kremlin capo di tutti capi was in charge. 

Today, Russia is a very different place: as much in thrall to the baubles of capitalism as we are. But if there’s one thing they (and we) can learn from Soviet design, it’s this: a bit of modernist design with cool lettering knocks functionality and reliability into a cocked hat when the coffee-table books are written years later. 

Designed In The Soviet Union is published by Phaidon. You can buy it here

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