Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World was published 40 years ago: Bill McDonough chimes in on why this book matters
Alice Rawsthorn has written an article for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times in which she notes the 40th anniversary of architect/educator/writer Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World and describes the book’s enduring influence.
In 1985 in his preface to the second edition of “Design for the Real World,” he noted proudly that the first edition had been translated into more than 20 languages and had become “the most widely read book on design in the world.” He died in 1998, but 40 years after his book was first published, it is still in print and hugely influential, and Papanek is praised as a pioneer of sustainable and humanitarian design. As Zoë Ryan, the chairwoman of design and architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, put it, “His approach seems more relevant than ever in today’s challenging times.”
Papanek has even been embraced by the design establishment. His archive was recently acquired by the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, which is to open the Victor J. Papanek Foundation in November with a symposium on his legacy. The foundation is also collaborating with the Museum of Arts and Design in New York to introduce the Victor J. Papanek Social Design Award.
Why has a 40 year-old book proved so enduring? Papanek wrote several other books on similar themes, but none has had as great an impact as “Design for the Real World,” nor have many other design books.
It is, by any definition, a good read, written with spirit, conviction and authority. The American designer William McDonough, who read it as an art student in 1971, remembers it as: “So simple, yet curiously sophisticated: humanistic, clever, caring and fun.”
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