Introduction to Social Design

Poster for the Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum, Germany (2018–2019) © Daniel Streat, 2018

A humanist approach to Design

Social Design, as an ideology, aims to solve social issues through Design practices. Although designers have been caring for human well-being far before, it is in the 1970s that this concept became broadly acknowledged thanks to Victor Papanek’s works. In order to understand the pioneer designer’s motivations, we will dissect this concept.

The Modulor, by Le Corbusier
Birth control pills for illiterate people, by Pirkko Sotamaa

Social design in practice

Using Design methodologies and tools as its root (Design Thinking, user-centered processes…) Social Design also has a deeply deconstructivist approach to the designer’s classical role: distribution of resources is reshaped and the designer gives up his/her monopoly over the creative power.

Photo by Mariia Chalaya on Unsplash
Co-design workshop, by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights
Minimal Design team, by Papanek


In order to conclude, we can say that Social Design is a powerful tool for building a more equal society, thanks to its humanist ideology and innovative processes. By truly considering minorities while addressing social issues with a systemic and highly collaborative approach it can doubtlessly contribute to all humans’ welfare. Yet, it is essential to recognize the complexity of the met challenges, because the solutions’ sustainability depends on and affects the social dimension but also the environmental and economical dimensions.


Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, 2013, About us, viewed 19 October 2020, <>



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