VICTOR PAPANEK (1927-1999)

VICTOR PAPANEK is our first Solutioneer profiled because, tragically, he passed away on January 14th, 1999.

Victor Papanek was a strong advocate of socially responsible designs of products and tools. He believed that "The only important thing about design is how it relates to people." His books and products were an inspiration and provocation to all of us and he was very eloquent promoter of ecological design.

His design products include a remarkable transistor radio made from tin cans that was designed to be produced cheaply in developing countries. He also developed a taxi for the disabled and developed many simple to manufacture products. He was interested in all aspects of design and how they affected people and the environment.

He wrote or co-wrote eight books including: Nomadic Furniture 1 & 2 (with Jim Hennessey), The Way things Don't work (with Jim Hennessey), Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, which has been translated into more than 20 languages since it was first published in 1970. His most recent book was The Green Imperative: Natural Design for the Real World (1996) which is an outstanding book which effectively updates approaches established in Design for the Real World.

Papanek was born in Vienna, Austria, and went to public school in England. He studied design and architecture at Cooper Union in New York and did postgraduate studies in design in Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also pursued and interest in anthropology, living and working for several years with Navajos, Inuit and Balinese. He also apprenticed under the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Papanek was dean of the school of design at the California Institute of Arts and headed the design departments at several schools, including the Kansas City Art Institute, where he was chairman from 1976 to 1981. He was the J.L. Constant Professor of Architecture and Design at the University of Kansas since 1981. Papanek received many awards, including a distinguished designer fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988. The next year he received the IKEA Foundation International Award.

Papanek created product designs for such organizations as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Health Organization. For Volvo in Sweden, he designed a taxi for the disabled.

Papanek traveled around the world giving lecture about his ideas for ecologically sound design and designs to serve the poor, the disabled and the elderly. "All designed tools and objects are sort of extensions of human abilities, and they do tend to make life richer for us," Papanek told The Kansas Star in a 1994 interview. But, he added, "an awful lot of designs, especially in this country, make life a lot more inconvenient. I'm thinking, for instance, of hi-fidelity units that have so many switches and toggles and buttons and things that they confuse most people.

"As I work in the kitchen, I realize that most things in kitchens must have been designed by men with absolutely no understanding of how people go about cooking or washing dishes or anything else." His books make ideal reading for Solutioneers as they cover all aspects of Solutioneering in very easy to follow style with detailed examples and concrete methods.

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