How design reverberated through Chile in the 1970s

A new book examines the role of design during Chile’s Allende government in the 1970s. Its authors reflect on the iconic designs that have remained in memory, and the legacy of this fertile chapter in Chilean design history

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, whenever a social or political revolution has taken place, design has never been too far away. This holds true for a particular period in Chilean history, from 1970 to 1973, when president Salvador Allende set about enacting socialist change. Allende was the leader of the Unidad Popular coalition government, formed of several centre-left parties, but arguably his closest political ally was design.

Graphic and industrial design flourished in this period, as shown in a comprehensive book by Hugo Palmarola, Eden Medina, and Pedro Ignacio Alonso, which complements a recent exhibition at Centro Cultural la Moneda in Santiago commemorating 50 years since Allende’s death following a military coup. The book’s title, How to Design a Revolution: The Chilean Road to Design, stems from the name given to the Allende government’s political undertaking: ‘the Chilean road to socialism’.

When Allende’s government was in power, design was still emerging at an educational and professional level, explains Alonso. Yet, despite being a relatively ‘young’ discipline, it quickly transformed during the 1970s. “State support played an important role in the history of design in Chile during the Allende period,” Medina tells us. The Allende government hired graphic designers to create posters highlighting initiatives, and created the first state-sponsored industrial design group, Project Cybersyn. The futuristic Cybersyn Operations Room, designed by the Industrial Design Area of the Chilean State Technology Institute, was reconstructed to scale for the exhibition.