Victor Papanek was born in Vienna, Austria. In 1939 following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria, 15-year-old Papanek emigrated to the United States as a refugee. He initially taught German at a YMCA in New York City. He graduated in 1948 from Cooper Union Night School in New York City with degrees in architecture and industrial design. He studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona in 1949. He then studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Papanek opened his own consulting office in 1953.

He became dean of the School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts, and in the early 1970s, he became chair of design at the Kansas City, (MO) Art Institute. He wrote several design-related books.

His first book, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change has been published in 20 different languages and remains popular. Papanek is widely praised as a pioneer of sustainable and humanitarian design (NY Times, 2011). 

Victor died in 1998. Since 2011, the Victor J. Papanek Social Design Award is given annually in his honor by The Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Victor J. Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and the Austrian Cultural Forum New York.


  • Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, Pantheon Books. 
  • Papanek, Victor & Hennessey, Jim (1973). Nomadic Furniture: How to Build and Where to Buy Lightweight Furniture That Folds, Collapses, Stacks, Knocks-Down, Inflates or Can be Thrown Away and Re-Cycled, New York, Pantheon Books. 
  • Papanek, Victor & Hennessey, Jim (1974). Nomadic Furniture 2, New York, Pantheon Books. 
  • Papanek, Victor & Hennessey, Jim (1977). How Things Don’t Work, New York, Pantheon Books. 
  • Papanek, Victor (1983). Design for Human Scale, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold. 
  • Papanek, Victor (1995). The Green Imperative: Natural Design for the Real World, New York, Thames and Hudson. 


Victor Papanek received the Distinguished Designer fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988.  The following year in 1989, he received the IKEA Foundation International Award. He received the CUAA Augustus Saint-Gaudens Award in 1987 and was inducted into The Cooper Union Hall of Fame in 2009. He received a Personal Recognition Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) in 1999.


  • Victor Papanek, IDSA Link
  • Victor Papanek, Wikipedia Link
  • Victor Papanek, an Early Champion of Good Sense, New York Times, May 15, 201. Link
  • Mr. Nader, Have You Met Mr. Papanek? New York Times, February 27, 1972. Link