The Papanek Symposium explores critical themes pertinent to issues of contemporary design. Partnered with broader design initiatives, research projects, and academic institutions, the symposium brings together social scientists, designers, historians, digital experts, activists, human scientists and curators.

Past symposia have explored the historical trajectories of design activism, the ethics of algorithms and data, the cultures of émigré design, the political futures of design, and the power of alternative and outlier economies. Speakers have included biotechnology designer Natsai Audrey Chieza (Faber Futures); media theorist Alison Powell (LSE); architectural historian Felicity D. Scott (Columbia); art historian Robin Schuldenfrei (Courtauld);  roboticist David Bruemmer (5D robotics); graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook (Barnbrook London); social innovator Babitha George (Quicksand, Bangalore); artist/technologist Chris Csíkszentmihályi (Cornell); data theorist Orit Halpern (Concordia); Turner Prize winning architect Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths) and alternative technologist, Vinay Venkatraman.

Previous Symposia

Design Anthropology: Critical Speculations

Papanek Symposium 2023

University of Applied Arts Vienna and The New School for Social Research, New York
16–17 March 2023, Online

Design Anthropology: Critical Speculations, is co-convened by Alison J. Clarke, Professor of Design History and Theory, University of Applied Arts Vienna and Shannon Mattern, Professor of Media & Art History at the University of Pennsylvania. This international, transdisciplinary symposium draws on critical design politics of re-purposing design ‘for the real world’ by focusing on anthropological and design research methods that open up new epistemological and creative possibilities, further illuminating our lived experiences and imaginations.  

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Design and Ethics

Papanek Symposium 2017

Austrian Embassy, 18 Belgrave Square, London, UK
22 September 2017


Questions of design and ethics take on a new currency, form, and prescience in a post-industrial, ‘post-truth’ landscape. The technological shifts that have re-organised  work through the automation of labour are intimately connected to global social problems relating to immigration, racial and gender politics. New classifications of intelligence, ‘artificial,’ ‘alternative,’ and ‘false’ are produced and consumed through the design and management of infrastructures of information.

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Real World: Design, Politics, Future

Papanek Symposium 2019

Porto Design Biennale, Portugal
Biblioteca Municipal Almeida Garrett
26–27 September 2019


Design is in crisis: Or, at the very least, in massive transition, exploring and rediscovering its potential during deeply problematic times. Real World: Design, Politics, Future, the 2019 Papanek Symposium, investigates design’s inherent tensions in the context of rising global far-right populism and the asphyxiating manipulation of information in a post-truth era.  

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Émigré Design Culture: Histories of the Social in Design

Papanek Symposium 2015

Angewandte Exhibition Centre Heiligenkreuzer Hof, Vienna
27–28 May 2015 


This international symposium examines the significance of Austrian and Central European émigré and exile architects/designers in promoting a progressive culture of debate in the United States, around the needs of society and strategies for social inclusion. The culture of the social in design that emerged in America from the 1920s, persisting into the 1960s, was defined by collaboration. The symposium is the first to address the pivotal role played by émigré and exile networks in New York, Boston, Chicago, Aspen, and Los Angeles, in shaping a new social agenda within design.

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Emerging and Alternative Economies of Design: The Social Imperative of Global Design

Papanek Symposium 2013

AULA der Wissenschaften, Vienna
15 November 2013


Design in the 21st century, harnessed by rising powers striving for economic competitiveness and cultural profile on the world stage, has taken on a newly urgent political significance. The unprecedented quantity of production and cultural engagement with design, from China to India, is shaping our collective futures. Can alternative design genres develop on the periphery of established neo-liberal models of economics and consumer culture? What is their potential to generate social innovation and challenge pre-existing, unsustainable economies of production?

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Anti-Design: Prescription for Rebellion?

Papanek Symposium 2011

Angewandte Exhibition Centre Heiligenkreuzer Hof, Vienna
10–11 November 2011  


The inaugural Victor J. Papanek symposium, ‘Anti-Design: A Prescription for Rebellion,’ takes its slogan from Papanek’s clarion call to designers, to look beyond the aesthetics of conventional product design to a broader,  politicised vision of design’s power to transform social futures. Invited speakers, from historians to contemporary designers, will present their visions and critical reflections on the potential of design’s anarchic past and future. 

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