Barcelona Cultura

Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design


The exhibition Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design is the first big retrospective on the designer, author and activist Victor J. Papanek (1923-1998).

What role should design and designers play in the contemporary world to be truly useful to society? This question has been the focus of widespread debate in recent decades and a reflection made by Victor Papanek, a pioneer of contemporary design and one of the most influential harbingers of social activism and sustainability in design. The ideas and questions addressed by Papanek in the 1960s remain extremely relevant for design and constitute the essence of critical, social, inclusive and interdisciplinary design.

Papanek is the author of the book Design for the Real World (1971), still the most widely read book on design. The work is a call for inclusion, social justice and sustainability, topics which continue to be hugely relevant for design today.

This exhibition explores Papanek’s life and work through an extensive series of original, evocative pieces from the archive of the Victor Papanek Foundation and some objects from some of his contemporaries such as Buckminster Fuller and the radical group Global Tools, among others. Papanek’s ideas and their lasting impact can also be found in the 21st century in projects by various international designers and artists linked to the sphere of critical, social and activist design.

The display is organised by topics based on the work of Papanek and his contemporaries, including policy on data and the media, digital social structures, biotechnology, design methodology, sustainability and social inclusion with an underlying reflection: the importance of design as a political tool.

This exhibition is a cooperation between the Barcelona Design Museum and the Vitra Design Museum, in collaboration with the Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna.

Keynote speech (Prof. Alison J. Clarke and Amelie Klein): October 30 th 2019 at 6 pm.


Alison Clarke (Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna), Amelie Klein (Vitra Design Museum).




B floor


General admission: 6€
Reduced admission: 4€

Supported by:

Exhibition fields

  • Creative connections

    Victor Papanek was part of a larger network advocating design activism in relation to broader social movements which radically altered the United States and

  • Papanek’s Life and Era

    Papanek’s life and work not only illustrate his development as a designer and educator, but also lend themselves to telling the story of twentieth-century

  • Is Anyone Here Normal?

    As a teacher and lecturer, Papanek shared his design philosophy with generations of students.

  • The Bigger Picture

    Papanek understood design as a System and a process, rather than just individual objects.

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Ajuntament de Barcelona