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Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design Essay


Defining design is a complicated task, as the concept of design embraces a range of aspects of people’s lives, including personal ones, social ones, economic ones, etc. However, there have been several attempts at viewing design from a global perspective, Victor Papanek’s endeavor being the key attempt that has sparked numerous debates. According to Papanek, design represents a “conscious effort to impose a meaningful order” (Papanek 23). The assumption that Papanek makes when claiming that design allows for arranging specific elements for getting a unique message across, therefore, supports the idea of my paper, which uses design as the key tool for disclosing the policy of inequity in China.

The author claims that design works as the force that “must be meaningful” (Papanek 25), whereas the paper that I have proposed uses design as the weapon for adding a very specific meaning to the installation that will be represented. Thus, the idea that the proposal is based on aligns with Papanek’s definition of design. Moreover, the installation in question is going to render very important political, cultural and socioeconomic issues, which can be viewed as the basis for the rich vs. poor conflict in China. The fact that the paper encompasses the key aspects of social life and is at the same time represents an artwork, being composed with the help of artistic tools, proves Papanek’s concept of design as a weapon for conveying a social message.

Papanek’s claim concerning form following function as the basis for design is also reflected in the work in question. Particularly, the location of the objects and the purpose that they serve are interrelated in the work in question. To be more specific, the fact that two objects of similar shapes yet having the exact opposite attributes are juxtaposed in the picture that serves as the support for the paper can be considered the embodiment of Papanek’s statement.

In the specified sketch, the form, i.e., the way, in which the elements are drawn, points at the obvious social problem in China. Moreover, the style of drawing can also be considered the manifestation of the idea of the form following the function. The sketchy, nonchalant manner, in which the image is drawn, serves as the foil for making the problem of inequity in China look even more important and urgent.

The phenomenon of the function complex, which Papanek also touches upon, also makes a major part of my work. As the author explains, psychological conditioning, which defines people’s perception of a certain symbol or a group thereof, is related closely to one’s cultural background, i.e., childhood memories, traditional, beliefs, etc. (Papanek 36). Therefore, choosing the symbols that would convey the same idea for both the representatives of the Asian countries and the Western states was the key challenge. Papanek’s work allowed for solving the problem and locating the elements of design that would speak to the members of any community.

Addressing a sociocultural issue is a tricky issue that requires a delicate approach. Design as the language that speaks to all people can be the solution for rendering the rich vs. poor concern in China. By incorporating the key principles of design as interpreted by Victor Papanek, one will be able to suggest several solutions to the problem under analysis and drive people’s attention to it.

Works Cited

Papanek, Victor. Design for the Real World. New York City, NY: Bantam Books, 2005. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 7). Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/victor-papaneks-definition-of-design/

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"Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design." IvyPanda, 7 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/victor-papaneks-definition-of-design/.

1. IvyPanda. "Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design." June 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/victor-papaneks-definition-of-design/.


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IvyPanda. "Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design." June 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/victor-papaneks-definition-of-design/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design." June 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/victor-papaneks-definition-of-design/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Victor Papanek’s Definition of Design'. 7 June.

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