Papanek came to public attention as a critic of industrial design culture with his 1971 book, Design for the Real World, which takes its place within the context of a chain of social and cultural critiques in the second half of the 20th century from Vance Packard to Naomi Klein. Although Papanek's book was turned down by twelve publishers prior to publication, it has since been published in more than twenty languages and captured the imagination of generations of design students and others questioning the lack of a sense of social responsibility in the design profession. Nonetheless, the extent to which the text actually influenced the design profession in any significant way is open to question.
Born in Vienna, Papanek emigrated to the USA in 1939. Nine years later he graduated with a diploma in architecture and industrial design at the Cooper Union, New York. He taught at the Ontario College of Art from 1954 to 1959, was a visiting professor at Rhode Island School of Design, and lectured at many other institutions. He established a design consultancy in 1964 with an international clientele including Volvo in Sweden. Having established his critical position with Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, he went on to write texts such as Nomadic Furniture (1974) and How Things Don't Work (1977) with James Hennessey. Other texts have included Design for Human Scale (1983) and Viewing the Real World (1983).
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.