Victor Papanek

The Politics of Design

Project description

Ever since the 1960s, the designer and philosopher Victor Papanek has gained international renown as a preeminent visionary in social and environmental commercial design. His opus magnus “Design for the Real World”, published in 1970, is the most widely read book on the topic. Papanek calls for a “design for need” instead of a “design for desire”. In other words, instead of catering to the whims of mass consumption, designers should place greater emphasis on societal challenges, such as inclusion, social equity and environmental sustainability.
The notions that Papanek once pioneered have since become widely accepted doctrines: design is more than merely giving shape to objects. It is also a tool for social transformation and therefore should be examined from an ethical standpoint. In autumn 2018, the Vitra Design Museum will stage the exhibition “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” which will present an overview of Papanek’s life and work, as well as the fundamental significance of design as a political device. The exhibition will be the first time Papanek’s oeuvre will be presented to the general public.
The museum is collaborating with the Victor J. Papanek Foundation to create a four-part interactive exhibition. The presentation comprises some 400 pieces, some of which have never been publicly displayed before. It not only serves as a retrospective, but also highlights the interrelationship between design and pop culture, the critique of consumerism and media theory. Consequently, the exhibition also makes reference to some of Papanek’s contemporaries, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan. An event programme will accompany the exhibition, which will open at the Vitra Design Museum in autumn 2018, followed by subsequent showings at other European museums.

Artistic director: Amelie Klein, Alison J. Clarke (AT)
Consulting curator: Jan Boelen (BE)
Exhibition design: EMYL
Graphic design: Daniel Streat
Artists and participants: Maria Benktzon (SE), Flui Coletivo (BR), Forensic Architecture (GB), Richard Buckminster Fuller (US), Frank Gehry (CA), Global Tools (IT), Susanne Koefoed (DK), Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (US), Marshall McLuhan (CA), Maya Jay Varadaraj (IN/US) and others

Additional Venues:

  • Barcelona Design Museum (Spain), 31 Oct 2019 – 2 Feb 2020
  • Z33 – House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt (Belgium), 14 Mar – 7 Jun 2020
  • Design Museum Den Bosch (Netherlands), 17 Oct 2020 – 7 Feb 2021


  • 29 September, 2018 to 10 March, 2019: Exhibition

    Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein


Vitra Design Museum

Charles-Eames-Str. 2
79576 Weil am Rhein (external link, opens in a new window)