What is social design and is there such a thing anyway? The term is typically used to label the work of those designers and architects who focus on tasks born out of humanitarian and socio-political issues, and it has often gone hand in hand with moralism and sweeping declarations. In a world growing deficient in both resources and energy, questions regarding inclusion, social justice, and sustainability are becoming more relevant to today’s design than ever before. In the 1960s and 70s Viktor Papanek was among the first to address not only issues of living conditions, class and income difference, but also environmental responsibility. Many designers practicing today carry in their pocket his “little green book” Design for the Real World (1971), which remains the most widely read book about design ever published. The exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum dedicated to the life and work of this prolific author, designer and lecturer is set to re-examine methods, usage and applications of Papanek’s approach to design as a political tool. Both a retrospective and a thematic exhibition, it gathers his manifold drawings, objects, films, manuscripts, and prints, some of which have never before been presented. Drawing upon his inter-disciplinary and collaborative methods, the exhibition forges dialogues between contemporary works from the areas of critical and social design, and radical positions from the 1960s to 1980s, including legendary figures such as George Nelson, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan, or the radical design initiative ‘Global Tools’. Contemporary works from the areas of critical and social design provide insight into Papanek’s lasting impact.
Victor J. Papanek, We are all handicapped (drafted with students in 1969). Section from Big Character Poster No. 1: Work Chart for Designers (1973). | Victor J. Papanek, Tin Can Radio, 1971. | Victor J. Papanek filming the WNED-TV Channel 17 programme Design Dimensions in Buffalo, NY (1961 – 1963). | Victor J. Papanek, The minimal design team (drafted with students in 1969). Section from Big Character Poster No. 1: Work Chart for Designers (1973). | © University of Applied Arts Vienna, Victor J. Papanek Foundation