The Design Archives at the University of Brighton

This summer I was able to make a research in the Design Archives at the University of Brighton. After attending the conference on the 50s anniversary of the Design Research Society (see my report), I stayed longer in Brighton to visit the Design Archives.

Photo 30-06-2016, 18 58 33

Brighton pier and the sea

This institution is one of the most important, paper based archives for design history. It was founded in the 1990s and contains of about twenty different archives, which cover aspects of graphic, furniture and industrial design. Financed by the government and private foundations, the archive is collecting different types of documents related to design. And it is not a coincidence that Brighton keeps such a great institution. One hour far away from London at the channel, the University of Brighton is one of the leading institution in Great Britain within the field of the design histories.

Photo 30-06-2016, 09 29 46 (2)

Entrance to the Design Archives at the University of Brighton

As in every other archive, you have to ask for an appointment and as well for a permission, to see contemporary material. Via email or by phone it is easy to contact the very helpful staff of the archives. As a finding aid the archival items are listed in the online hub of UK archives. They store the description from about two hundred institutions in Britain, that keep historical documents. By this service it is quite easy to search and especially prepare your visit at an archive. I am asking myself why isn’t that possible for Germany or whole Europe?

Furthermore in the Design Archives it is allowed for users to take photographical notes from documents. This is not a reproduction, because you have to use your own camera and must cover the document with a plastic foliage with a good visible remark from the Design Archives. But anyway you have a picture of the document, so you can work on it at an later moment back at home. In my point of view it is a very good way to help the user and give security again right abuse for the archive. Again, why isn’t that possible in Germany?

My interest were the files in the ICSID archives, which came in 2007 from the University of Compiègne, where it was held on behalf of ICSID. In these papers I could see how the West German institutions – like the VDID, Rat für Formgebung or the IDZ Berlin – interacted with other industrial designers. And as a special German perspective it came clear to me that the ICSID was also an important battlefield in the Cold War. The delegates from East and West Germany i.e. at the conference 1975 in Moscow hand many discussion about the problems, how was allowed to come with which wording of the own state. Nevertheless this changed, and again Moscow was – in my point of view – the turning point. Because here it was the first time that industrial designer from East and West Germany came together. Keeping on this, I am arguing in my thesis that in the 1980s there was no iron curtain for some parts of the industrial designer at the inner German border anymore.

The Cold War is fortunately over, but parts of its memory are stored in the Design Archives. In Brighton, they do not only „store“ documents, they also conserve them. In an inspiring blog the staff is writing about their doings, so everybody can follow what a great job they do. Beside this a lot of thesis are written with sources from the Design Archives by many PhD students. The most important one for my research field is the project from Tania Messell about the history of the ICSID. I am really looking forward to that publication.

Diese Diashow benötigt JavaScript.

The Design Archives at the University of Brighton also work on different exhibitions, i.e. about the history of the Design Research Society, that was presented parallel to the DRS2016. And it would be totally wrong calling the Design Archives old fashioned. They are open for digital tools on the internet – not like so many archives or museums in Germany. For example the Design Archives make a lot of documents online accessible, as well as many pictures in the VADS database. Furthermore the staff of the archive use a Flickr-account to give their masterpieces a stage on open access. It is also less surprising that the Design Archives use social media like twitter @design_archives to communicate.

Sign to the Design Archives

Sign to the Design Archives

To sum up: Visit to the Design Archives at the University of Brighton, for design historians it is really worth to go there!

Advertisements

Design History on the DRS2016 – A Design Summer in Brighton

This year in summer the British Design Research Society celebrated its 50th anniversary with a big conference in Brighton. About 600 designer and researcher from Great Britain, Europe, and the world came together at the DRS2016 in the lovely seaside city, one hour south of London. The main theme of the conference was „Future-Focused Thinking“, which related to the popular designer self-understanding, designing the future and especially being the right profession for that task.

Brighton Pier and the sea

The conference was well organized and soon fully booked, although the registration fees with more about 400£ for three days were anything but cheap. Nevertheless I was really appreciated about the use of digital infrastructure at the whole event. The conference program was mainly organized via an online tool – what is not a real innovation nowadays. Anyhow this was combined with all the papers, the referents handed in before. In a pdf file and with a CC-BY license – I find that really refreshing – it was possible for me to prepare myself in advanced (all papers are online). In this way it was easier for me to listen the specific details more precisely than just trying to understand it, because your read the paper already before. Unfortunately the time at all sessions was planed very short, so there hadn’t been enough time for questions to the presenters. And further I still have a question about the digital persistence, because I am worried about the long-term storage of these research data.

What I also really appreciated was the decision not to give a keynote lecture. Instead there was on every day a podium discussion as a „starter“ with four experts from different fields about burning issues in design. The audience was able to ask questions via the Twitter hashtag #drsdebates. At the whole conference the hashtag #drs2016 was the digital code to share information to everybody. By using Twitter in this manner, all papers published online and an additional online exhibition about the history of the Design Research Society, it was also possible for people who weren’t in Brighton, to follow the conference from far away. Sharing the information in this way worked excellent and I would wish to see such an active use of digital tools also more on German conferences – may be at the Historikertag 2016 in Hamburg.

Diese Diashow benötigt JavaScript.

From the greatest interest for me was one session on design history, that lasted the whole first day in the Old Courthouse. These panels from the 29th June was called „History, Theory, Practice – Histories for Future-Focused Thinking“ were led by Maya Oppenheimer (Royal Collage of Art, London) and Harriet Atkinson (University of Brighton). This was organized in cooperation with the British Design History Society chaired by Jeremy Aynsley (University of Brighton). The main aim was to reflect what happened since the famous Design Method conference from 1962.

After the lunch break Tania Messell opened the next section with her paper about „International Norms and Local Design Research“ at the ICSID and its engagement in Latin America in the 1970s. Messell, a PhD candidate at the University of Brighton, supervise by the professor for design history Jeremy Aynsley. She gave convincing ideas about how design was used as a development topic between the so called first and third world. By looking at this, it became clear how western focused the ICSID was as structured. Messell’s PhD thesis will close a big „research gap“ in design history and help to understand the globalized network of the industrial designers since the late 1950s. I am really looking forward to her book.

After that Sylvia (Technical University Berlin) and Christian Wölfel (Technical University Dresden) presented some of the results (see Wölfels paper), which they published 2014 within their book about Martin Kelm and the „good“ GDR design. This publication was – part time for reasons – criticized by German design historians (i.e by the design historian Siegfried Gronert or the eyewitness Günter Höhne). But nevertheless it was commendable the save Kelms story of his work as a design manager in the totalitarian system of the GDR. And it was also a enriching step further by the Wölfels to bring up questions about the GDR on the“radar“ of the no-German speaking design historians.

The third presentation in the section gave Ingrid Halland Rashidi from the University of Oslo – so she’ll be one of my colleges when I am as a visiting PhD fellow in Norway’s capital in fall this year. In her paper she followed the path of her PhD thesis by presenting thoughts and a re-reading of the exhibition „New Domestic Landscape“ about Italian design at the MoMa 1971 (see Ingrids paper). Her main question was if a work would always operate within the framework of human intention. By asking this she questioned the agency beyond human intention in an museological context, and the audience was very pleased about this.

The section was completed by the paper from designer Isabel Prochner (Université de Montreal) on current question about feminist work in industrial design (see Prochners paper). Her point was that in the 1980s and 1990s there was much more feminist critique than it is today. So Prochner claimed for a rebuild of feminist work in industrial design. Her paper was widely discussed in the follow conversation between presenters and the audience.

After the tea break the session on design history was re-opened by Kees Dorst (University of technology Sydney and Eindhoven University of Technology) (see Dorsts paper). He asked in a quite refreshing manner, if design practice and research would finally find together. Dorst emphasized in his presentation, that the ambition to create a „science of design“ in the past can be criticized for being too disconnected from design practice. With that he claimed for a new way of thinking „academic design“. This last session on design history was finalized by the papers from Tao Huang (Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, USA) with an advertisement on contemporary Chinese design, Adam de Eyto’s (University of Limerick) short history of Irish design and Joyce Yee’s (Northumbria University) appraisal of the current situation of the so called design research.

Diese Diashow benötigt JavaScript.

So when I resume, even if „only“ one whole day was focused on design history, there weren’t that many papers on this special part of the history. This is not surprising, because the Design Research Society has its major focus on current design questions and not on the past – like the Design History Society. Looking at this I had the whole conference the impression, that the way of arguing, presenting a thesis and coming to new topics set apart from the historians on the one side and the designer on the other side. But even thou this was one of the great strength of the DRS2016 to bring these both groups together. Because the possibility to listen to papers that were not from the own research field, can be enriching and build new bridges.