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  • Installation of the Papanek exhibtion «The Politics of Design» © Vitra Design Museum, photo: Norbert Miguletz

Since the 28th of September 2018, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein is featuring an exhibition on Victor J. Papanek (born in 1923), who was and is an idol for many architects and industrial designers. He stood up for sustainable, reasonable and functional design already in the 1960’s and many topics that he concerned himself with are more relevant today than ever. He was a highly distinguished designer, educator, lecturer and writer, widely acknowledged for his visionary ideas on design theory.


  • Victor J. Papanek in Buffalo, NY (April 1959). Photograph kindly donated to the Victor J. Papanek Foundation by Nicolette Papanek © University of Applied Arts Vienna, Victor J. Papanek Foundation

Papanek wanted to save the world. He did not want us to just consume “design”, but to think about the necessity and the usefulness of a product. The creativity of a designer meant responsibility for him: “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them […] Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care is probably the phoniest field in existence today.”[1] He claimed that all people are designers: “All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity.”[2] His philosophy did not only consider well-designed tools, but included the composition of a poem, writing music, and even the education of our children. In his book “Design for the Real World”, he made product designers responsible for the decay of society with a lot of humour, but also with a realistic perspective on the destruction of our environment, gradually increasing pollution levels and exploitation of our planet. Most of the problems he pointed his finger at are not yet solved, or have grown even worse. This makes him very popular among today’s students of industrial design.
[1] “Design for the real world”, Victor Papanek, 1971: p. ix [2] “Design for the real world”, Victor Papanek, 1971: p.3


  • Victor J. Papanek, Tetrakaidecahedral movable playground structure (1973-1975). © University of Applied Arts Vienna, Victor J. Papanek Foundation

Victor J. Papanek believed good design had to be available for everyone. Creating good design for a wealthy minority is decadent. In a Swiss tv-documentary a journalist asked Amelie Klein, the co-curator of the Papanek exhibition, if that was not a contradiction as the Vitra chairs were so expensive, affordable by only a few. She struggled to give a satisfying answer. But to be fair: the sales of these chairs made this museum and the campus possible and the social approach of the founding Fehlbaum family is following the Papanek ideal.


  • Victor J. Papanek, Dining chair Samisen series (1952 – 1956). © University of Applied Arts Vienna, Victor J. Papanek Foundation

Create your design with those who will use it. That was Papanek’s mantra. Make design functional and solve problems. The source of this attitude was his mother, who, being only 1.50m small, faced many problems in her daily life with tools that were exclusively designed for taller people. Talking to each other, scrutinising ideas and facts, thinking of solutions: that’s what he asked for in all situations in life. This would make our planet a better place.

If it was for Papanek, design did not have to be beautiful, but mainly functional. If it was for Papanek, inventions that serve people well must not be protected by patents. If it was for Papanek, well-designed products should be free. Of course, this is a difficult approach to our daily lives. Of course, this is a difficult approach to take, but he simply wanted to improve people's lives.

Geberit feels strongly connected to Papanek and his ideas. It was a natural decision to sponsor the exhibition in the Vitra Design Museum. Design Meets Functions summarises Geberit’s focus in a nutshell: Geberit products must be sustainable, functional and durable. Easy-to-use is a term that can be connected to many of their products. The products are developed and improved by talking to the people who are using them: be it the planner, the architect, the installer and plumber, or the end-user. Functionality is number one. Partnership with customers comes on an equal level. The bond to them can only be strengthened if they are convinced of the quality and functionality of the products, but also of the services and the support they are getting: if they are involved, if someone is listening to them and their needs.

Geberit is inviting architects and designers from all over the world to visit the Vitra Design Museum giving them the opportunity to experience the vibe of the campus and to revive their perception of Victor J. Papanek’s ideas that are more topical now than ever.