Claiming a Profession in the Turkish Context: A Micropolitical History of Industrial Design

Following the 1980 coup d'état, over 23,000 associations were closed in Turkey; the freedom of association remained extremely limited during the early 1980s. Formally educated industrial designers in Turkey showed a solid will to gather around a professional association in the late 1980s. Two regional alma mater groups were competing for leadership, Ankarans and İstanbulites. A meeting was held in İstanbul, and the groups decided to work towards establishing an association separately, one in Ankara and another one in İstanbul. Industrial Designers Society of Turkey (ETMK, Endüstriyel Tasarımcılar Meslek Kuruluşu) was established in 1988 in Ankara. It remained the sole professional organization until the establishment of another society, the Industrial Designers Association (ENTA, Endüstriyel Tasarımcılar Derneği) in İstanbul in 2014. ETMK’s struggle to claim a voice and visibility in design matters coincided with Turkey’s official ambitions -joining the EU customs union- in the early 1990s; ETMK’s first contact with the governmental bodies concerned intellectual property rights and design protection. The Turkish Patent Institute was headed by a senior colleague known to the ETMK board members, and the commission responsible for redrafting the Turkish intellectual property law included ETMK members as the representatives of industrial designers. This six-month-long collaborative work resulted in long-term alliances with the Turkish Patent Institute, the local intellectual property community, and specialized courts. In the early 2000s, ETMK’s commitment to developing an inclusive and bottom-up strategic plan led to a strategic vision crowned by a high-profile project -Design Turkey Awards- with a triple target: governmental bodies, the business world, and the public. Design Turkey has become ETMK’s most visible and regular collaboration with external partners, including the ministries of economics and industry and Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM, Türkiye İhracatçılar Meclisi); ETMK’s generative contact with the ministries and business world resulted in new alliances and expanded ETMK’s role in matters of design policy. The 2000s also marked a boom in economic actors’ interest in industrial design. To the dismay of contemporary-minded designers with high ambitions and four-year university diplomas, the cultural and financial capital of Turkish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were more in line with the human resources recruited from “industrial design” vocational high schools and two-year “industrial design” programs in vocational schools of higher education. Since SMEs constitute a significant part of the Turkish economy, the clash of expectations was worrying. ETMK members and the design community were outraged by the unfair use of “industrial design.” The options were the legal battle or political struggle; the political struggle option was perceived to be the most cautious. During the early 2000s, the industrial design community observed another concerning development in the architectural education community. The Communication Group for Head of Schools of Architecture (MOBBİG, Mimarlık Okulları Bölüm Başkanları İletişim Grubu) was conducting regular meetings during which the status of several disciplines, including interior architecture, landscape architecture, and industrial design was debated in the absence of the representatives of corresponding groups. The discussions described industrial design as a subdiscipline of architecture. The immediate response of the industrial design education community was to establish an Academic Council of Industrial Design Departments (ETAK, Endüstriyel Tasarım Bölümleri Akademik Konseyi) in 2005. ETAK has been active since then and meets twice annually. In 2009, the Turkish Design Advisory Council (TTDK, Türk Tasarım Danışma Konseyi) was established as the first governmental body dedicated to design policy in Turkey; along with a number of governmental and non-governmental bodies, the president of ETMK has also been a member of the council. The council’s work has been headed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the Turkish Patent Institute has run the secretariat. The first significant move by TTDK was the preparation of the “Design Strategy Document 2014-2016” in 2013. ETMK voiced the design community’s concerns over the vocational high schools and two-year programs, and the draft document included the establishment of a chamber of industrial designers. However, the document's final version did not have this action plan. Instead, the Vocational Qualifications Authority (MYK, Mesleki Yeterlilik Kurumu, est. 2006) and ETMK were jointly appointed to develop a definition for the industrial design profession. The turn of events was impacted by the executive board of ETMK, which served between 2012-2014; the board was attracted by MYK’s administrative and financial model: ETMK was going to be the authorized certification body to conduct courses and certification exams and gain income. The executive board changed in 2014. MYK informed the newly elected board that the Outdoor and Industrial Advertisers Association (ARED, Açık Hava ve Endüstriyel Reklamcılar Derneği) was interested in developing a definition for the industrial design profession. It took two years for the newly elected board of ETMK and several senior ETMK members to reverse the previous board’s policy and block entry to the industrial design profession through an exam conducted by MYK-authorized certification bodies as an alternative to four-year university programs. The whole experience revealed the fragile status of the profession, both internally and externally. With the initiative of several ETMK members, a Professional Commission for Industrial Designers was formed under the Chamber of Architects in 2016. The commission has been working towards expanding the number of industrial designers registered to the Chamber of Architects so that they can establish an independent chamber for industrial designers in the future. The commission has also been working on regulations concerning the profession of industrial design; in 2022, the commission’s “Ethics Guidelines for Industrial Designers” and “Guidelines for National Industrial Design Competitions” were approved by the Chamber of Architects’ General Assembly.
15th Annual 4T Symposium "Design, Populism and Politics"
Citation Formats
F. Korkut, G. F. Hasdoğan, and M. Öztürk Şengül, “Claiming a Profession in the Turkish Context: A Micropolitical History of Industrial Design,” presented at the 15th Annual 4T Symposium “Design, Populism and Politics”, İstanbul, Türkiye, 2023, Accessed: 00, 2023. [Online]. Available: