German Industrial Design in the Holy Land – A Short Overview on Israeli-German Design-Relations

German Industrial design in the holy land was quite unthinkable after 1945. But since the 1960s designers from Israel and Germany came again in touch. In this short overview I will discuss the relations of the West German Industrial designers to Israel from the 1960s to the 1980s. I will argue, that personal relations were much more important than institutional connections, as one might think.

The beginning of the diplomatic relations between Israel and the FRG in the year 1965 was a kind of a breakthrough. After the Shoah relation with Germany, as the country of the enemy, was a controversial topic in the Israeli society. With the first steps of the Reparations Agreement from 1952, Adenauer and Ben Gurion laid the basics for diplomatic relations in the future. They came thirteen years later by a diplomatic agreement between Bonn and Tel Aviv. With this it became easier for privates or economical connections between West Germany and Israel. It is also important to mention that East German design was hardly unknown, because the GDR had no connections to Israel. East Berlin supported the so-called PLO, like the USSR and other countries from the Eastern Block did, and had no diplomatic relations to Tel Aviv.

Visit of Konrad Adenauer in Tel Aviv, May 1966, Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P092350, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Industrial Design was far away from being the post important point at the cultural or economical relations between the two countries. But anyhow, in the 1960s the design connections started growing. They are an interesting point for a transnational design history to study, how the relation between two states came in touch. I will show in the following two parts, that the relationship between these two countries was more based on personal than on institutional connections.

Institutional Connections

First a lot of West German politicians, industrialists, and designers in the 1960s were very much interested in a connection. Looking into the historical sources, the national socialism, the Shoah or the Second World War, were neither not used as a references nor even mentioned. The Germans as well as the Israelis were much more interested in a design exchange of ideas and goods, bounded with an economical connection. Even after Israel became a member of the International Council of Industrial Design Societies in 1969, the industrial designers of both countries came regularly together.

But after the Six-Day-War in 1967 things went more difficult for German design in Israel. After that, many West German companies were frightened to present their consumer goods in Israel, because they expected as a result a boycott by Arabian states. The Yom Kippur War from 1973 made things even worse, so West German companies and authorities became more careful with their engagement in Israel.

This is also example to show, that a design network had not to go via institutions but can use the personal networks. Because the personal than the institutional connections characterized more the design relations between Israel and the FRG. For example the German Design Council – as state founded institution – planed to show an exhibition in Israel since the end of the 1960s.1 The financial support should come from the Federal Foreign Office in Bonn. In particular Gustav Stein – managing director of the German Design Council and member of the West German Parliament – pushed the idea of a design exhibition in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem forward. But the idea was postponed many times. The background was the fear of a boycott by Arab countries, if companies would present their goods in Israel. So they asked the authorities in Bonn and the German Design Council to postpone the exhibition until the idea was dropped. Till the end of the Berlin Wall, there was no Israel or German design exhibition, it first changed after the German reunification.

Personal Connections

Now in the second part, I will give some example how a personal network between Israel and the FRG brought the industrial designers from the two states together. This is important, because as I would argue, most of the connections between Israeli and West German since the 1960s came on a personal way via designers themselves. In the following I will give three examples from each decade to visual this.

In the year 1965 the “form” – the most important West German magazine at that time – published a first reportage on Israeli design. In it Moshe Kohen described the current status of industrial design in Israel. The country was characterized by a lot of migration, thus the Israeli authorities had to build fast but with quality a new livelihood for newcomer in the Holy Land. Following the author design had a very strong position in fulfilling this task. Beside that, the reportage informed the West German readers about the institutions, universities, and the economical situation, the Israeli designer were dealing with in the 1960s.2 It was remarkable, that historical references of design history – one might immediately think about the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv or German architecture sights in Jerusalem or Haifa – were not mention in this article or else where later.

The design connection between Israel and West Germany put on current issues and not reflection history. For example, the article author Moshe Kohen was part of the most important design school in the FRG. Kohen graduated in 1963 at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm. His diploma thesis in the field of product design was on dishes, supervised by Gert Karlow, Leonard Bruce Archer and Horst Rittel.3 Thus Kohen was an design expert, who was trained in Southwest Germany and worked later in Israel. So Kohen is one example for the personal network between both countries. It is a pity, that his binational design biography is not in the focus of the design history till today.

Another prominent example is the visit of 1973 by Julius Posener – by this time head of the German Werkbund – together with Wend Fischer – director of the Neue Sammlung in Munich – and Wilhelm Wagenfeld – a famous German product designer.4 The three important German designers were invited to an exhibition vernissage in Jerusalem, where the design by Wagenfeld was shown to an Israeli audience. All three were also guests at the new permanent exhibition on Israel design in the Israel Museum. Posener wrote fascinated about the welcome address by Teddy Kollek, the famous major of Jerusalem by that time. Especially the biography of Posener could be worth to have a look at, because he was forced to emigrate after 1933 to Palestine due to the National Socialism in Germany and later came back to Germany. Via Posener there could be a strong connection between i.e. the German Werkbund and Israel, but this needs more archival research in the Posener Archive in the Academy of Arts Berlin.

The last example is the personal exchange in design education. The Siemens designer Jens Reese gave in the end of the 1980s a design seminar series at the famous Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In these seminars he taught his ideas of creativity methods. Especially his visual permutation methods – a kind of elemental design method – were widely asked by the Israeli design students. Reese was also interviewed by the “form” on his impressions about Jerusalem, Israel and the design there. He gave an interesting overview on Israel design education, difference between continental Europe and the Holy Land as well as his experiences from the design courses at Bezalel.51 Rat für Formgebung, Tätigkeitsbericht 1970, pp. 15.

2 Kohen, Mosche (1965): Briefe aus Tel Aviv – Design in Israel, in: form (31), p. 10-11. Very similar to that was the article Steiner, Simon D. (1966): Design in Israel, in: Industrial Design (5), pp. 68-71.

4 Posener, Julius (1973): Besuch in Jerusalem, in: Werk und Zeit (7), p. 7.

5 See Unknown (1986): Spinner gesucht, in: form (114), p. 78 and Reese, Jens (1988): Mit traumwandlerischer Sicherheit gestalten… in: form (121), pp. 23-25.

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An IT-Revolution in the Graphic Design after the 1970s?

The so-called computerization of the western societies at the beginning of the 1970s shaped many social subregion. But concerning the work of the graphic designers in the three decades until the new millennium it was a far-reaching change. Some has argued – and in my point of view this would be an outstanding thesis for a research project – that this was a revolution for the profession of the graphic designer.

First civil constructions for design with computers where made in the USA and Western Europe in the 1960s. This so-called „Computer Aided Design“ was in the 1960s widely discussed i.e. under the West-German industrial designer for finding new ways in the production design. Anyhow not before the 1980s CAD was used in this way. Even some are arguing that this way of developing design by computers came in the factories not before the 1990s. So it was a long way to go until the industrial designers used CAD in their daily working life.

In contrast to that the neighbor profession of the graphic designer was highly affected by this computerization. So looking at this, it is easy to argue that this all changes the workflow of the graphic designer totally in the time from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. Even before the Time Magazine elected the personal computer as „man“ of the year in 1982, the work support by microchips changed a lot in the graphic fields. First typewriters with electronic assistants started modifying the way of writing not only in offices. With the appearance of first personal computer i.e. the development of new fonts or the printing technics were not anymore a secret knowledge to only a few anymore. Not the airbrush, pencil and ruler was the standard equipment, the PC was the new tool for all graphic designer.

The project „Graphic Means“ lead by Briar Levit at the Portland State University is planning a film about this transformation of work in graphic design. As the trailer shows, this film project wants to demonstrate these revolutionary changes with original cinematic material as well as with different eyewitnesses.

“Design for City Environment” – The Interdesign Seminar 1980 in Tbilisi

The idea of a city as an environment for living came on the agenda of the designers during the 1970s. This was connected for the designer with an interdisciplinary approach, especially with architects and city planners. One prominent example for this is an international seminar in Georgia in the fall 1980.

The seminar “Design for City Environment” was held from the 6th to the 18th October 1980 in Tbilisi. It was organised within the seminar series by the Soviet VNIITE in cooperation with the ICSID, the IAA (International Association of Art), the ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners), the ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations), the ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites), the IFI (International Federation of Interior Designers), the IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects), the UIA (International Union of Architects) and the WCC (World Crafts Council).1

The 34 participants came from the USSR and from Western countries.2 The professions were widely mixed, thus designers, architects, and met in the capital of the Georgian Soviet Republic at the regional office of the VNIITE. Tbilisi itself was chosen because of a number of its features: there was a combination of a national tradition as well as modern architecture. The city was with over a million inhabitants hugh and had a situation with special climatic conditions.3

View via Tbilisi, Lotkini is in the center behind the trinity cathedral

The interdesign seminar had the aim to find methods to build the environment of a big city within an urban growth and a massive increase of population.4 To study such questions the participants looked at the Lotkini district in Tbilisi (ლოტკინი), were 17 000 new accommodations were planned. During the interdesign the (international) experts tried to find answers on functional, aesthetic, and socio-cultural problems. Questions like the functional organization of a district, the public services, greenery, design and visual communication, and applied arts. The designer especially looked for aspects on graphic design, secondary architecture, and usability. At the end of the seminar the participants submitted a general concept for the district development for housing, industrial complexes, transport infrastructure, and public spaces.5

View via Tbilisi

The “Interdesign 1980” was the first seminar with international and interdisciplinary cooperation, which tried to solve problems of building a human environment. Furthermore it was a kind of opening for the Soviet Design authorities – like the VNIITE with Yuri Soloviev – to Western experts.6 But this seminar also showed also how limited the possibilities of ideas and plans were. At least only few points from the interdesign seminar found their way into the Lotkini district.

1 Unbekannt (1980): „Stadt-Design“ als Interdesign-Seminar in Tbilissi vom 6. bis 18. Oktober 1980, in: form (90), p. 80.

2 Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, GDR, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Venezuela and the Soviet Union.

3 Unknown (1980): Interdesign ’80 Tbilisi/USSR, in: ICSID-News (November/December), pp. 2-3.

5 Like footnote 3.

6 For further reading Tom Cubbin’s article (https://academic.oup.com/jdh/article-abstract/30/1/16/2623682/Postmodern-Propaganda-Semiotics-environment-and?redirectedFrom=fulltext) and Yulia Karpova’s PhD thesis from 2015 (www.etd.ceu.hu/2015/karpova_yulia.pdf), pp. 328, are an excellent starting point.

«Som en gjesteforsker i Norge» or Being a Visiting PhD Fellow in Norway

This fall I had the great honour to be a Visiting PhD Fellow at the University of Oslo for two month. Thanks to Professor Kjetil Fallan – one of the leading design historians – the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art, and Ideas offered me the opportunity to come to the capital city of Norway.

Kjetil Fallan is a Norwegian professor of design history, e.g. editorial board member of the Journal of Design History and the Design and Culture as well as an author of many publications about design history. His books, papers, and presentations are very inspiring for me and I used a lot of his publications in my PhD thesis. For example his last publications from this year are Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization and Designing Modern Norway: A History of Design Discourse, which I used in chapter on globalised design. I met Fallan at the workshop “Environmental Histories of Design” in the summer 2015 at the Rachel-Carson-Center in Munich. This intensive workshop about sustainability in design history was really inspiring for me (see my blogpost about the workshop). I think the same will be for the annual conference of the Design History Society, which will be held 2017 in Oslo. The title is “Making and Unmaking the Environment” and is organised by Kjetil and his team.

Against the background that I had studied twice abroad with a lot of good experiences, it was obvious for me to visit another university outside of Germany during the PhD project. And it was also consistent to combine this with writing my chapter about the West German Industrial Designers in a globalised world. Because of Fallan’s high quality research, as well as Norwegians‘ high fluency in English, I decided to apply for a research fellowship in Oslo. And happily, the department at the UiO were willing to invite me and offered me working space for two month.

Getting financial support for my Norway stay was also possible. Thanks to the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, which supports my PhD project since 2014, it was not too complicated to get extra money for my visit. If this way would not be successful, there were also a possibility for Germans to apply at the Willy-Brandt-Foundation in Oslo, because they are also supporting academic exchanges for researchers. It would also be possible to apply for a short visit scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service.

Beside the whole organisation of my visit in Oslo, there was one detail I was really astonished about in a positive manner. All correspondence, contracts, and inquiries were in a digital form. Furthermore my impression was that everything went on quite fast. For example “digital” and “fast” are not adjectives I would use for the German bureaucracy, especially at universities. That is a good thing to show, that in Germany e.g. a lot of time and energy is invested in discussions on a digital life – and in Norway many things are made more pragmatic in this point. Or to reflect one self and use the word from an interview with foreigners in Germany: “Paper in Germany is valued like God”.

The art history section, where Professor Kjetil Fallan and his colleagues are working, is part of the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas – or the short form in Norwegian “IFIKK”. The department itself is situated at the Campus Blindern, in the Georg Morgenstiernes hus. This 1960s red brick building was renovated a few years ago, so the interior space is quite new and very delightful. At the first day I was kindly welcomed by everybody and I got a working space with two other nice PhD students from art history in the room. Also I received an access card and a room key, to be able to work outside the main working hours or at the weekend. Get a room, card and keys as an external founded PhD student at the LMU in Munich, I have not heard that this has happened. Thus, these small details can demonstrate what kind of appreciation and attention in Norway is given towards scientists, PhD students and guests.

Georg Morgenstiernes hus

All the art historians in the department where very kind and open towards me, especially Kjetil and his PhD students Ingrid, Ida, and Gabriele integrated me so thoughtfully. Also new and remarkable for me was in which way the university is caring for the employees. Every Monday a huge basket with a variant of fruits were delivered. A fully-automatic coffee machine was also free for use. Also home office, part time or parental leave are not extraordinary, in Norway they are already ordinary. Getting a kindergarden place in Norway is not a lottery game, like it is in Munich. So everything gave the impression, that one looks with care after its employees. In comparison to a German higher education institution and the German sciences system, the difference catches the eyes.

In this great atmosphere, it was possible for me to write my chapter about West German industrial designers and their discourses about globalisation. Besides that, I was also able to write a short paper about the special German-German design relations in the Cold War. In comparison to German PhD seminars, the Norwegian procedure is more a text discussion. Thus, this means more writing an article and only giving a brief presentation, followed by a comprehensive discussion. I had the feeling, this procedure has some advantages. Because first, the author has a text, on which s/he can work and e.g. re-write parts to make it better. And second the audience can prepare itself and do not have to listen to over-length presentations. I was very pleased with the seminar and all the questions, comments, and tips I got on my text. Thus, perhaps I can keep working on the text, when I am back in Germany. With some luck, I will find a place to publish these results.

For living, there is a possibility to apply for researcher housing at the student welfare organisation for students in Oslo (SiO). In my case it was a furnished, small room in the Sogn student village, next to the Blindern Campus. It was ok to stay there for two months, but in the end, I cannot recommend it. Because the SiO has housing “quality”, “services” and invoices, which are not in a balanced proportion. Unfortunately the housing market in Oslo is as bad as in Munich. So you need quite a large portion of luck to find something that is fitting, affordable, and not behind the bushes. Beside the fact that the costs of living in Norway are as high as their reputation. In comparison to Munich – which is the most expensive city in Germany – I would guess that you have to spend about 30% more for food and the daily life. So with the German salary for PhD students – which is also low in Germany itself – you really have to live economically and fugally.

The regional office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation is more focused on Sweden. Norway or Oslo are unfortunately not their main focus. But beside this, the Goethe-Institute in Oslo is organising a couple of interesting events in Norway’s capital city. Especially the podium discussions e.g. about the phenomena of populism, held in the Litteraturhuset, was really worth attending. I also can recommend the Opera House, the National Museum and the Vigeland Museum together with the Vigeland Park in Oslo. Trips to Bergen, Kristiansand, and Lillehammer are also good to make by train and a tip in every travel book. Also Stockholm is not so far away, a high-speed train brings you there in less than five hours.

Thus, thanks to Kjetil, Ida, Ingrid, Gabriele, Gustav, Anne Lise, Aron, Ellif, Espen, Heidi, Lars, Lena, Nikita, Panagiotis, Pia, and all other IFIKK-members for great two month in Oslo!

And I wish all of you a great Christmas time and a happy new year!

 

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.

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

Visions of Sustainability in Design History

Gary Anderson and his original design of the recycling logo, by Gary Anderson, CC BY-SA 3.0

The term „sustainability“ has become increasingly importance in many social debates. Current design history research looks at the aspect of „sustainability“ as well. In mid-June this year, a workshop entitled „Environmental Histories of Design“  was organized by the Norwegian Professor Kjetil Fallan (University of Oslo) along with Finn Arne Jørgensen (Umeå University) at the Rachel Carson Centre at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. A Norwegian research group has been working on aspects of sustainability in design history since 2014. The team, led by Kjetil Fallan, runs its own research blog: www.backtothesustainablefuture.net.

The aim of the workshop in Munich was to discuss previously disregarded historical ties of design and sustainability. The contributions can be grouped into two different approaches. Arguments were either object or discourse-oriented, while both approaches have their advantages. More relevant is what questions are being asked. I methodically pursued a discourse analysis approach, thus it was very exciting for me to see how international colleges work with discourse analyses on design topics. I will briefly introduce three examples and bring in some thought of mine.

The debates in West Germany about design and obsolescence were explored by the Wuppertal Professor Heike Weber. The aspect of a planned life cycle of objects is currently discussed controversially. From a design historical perspective, we know relatively little about this topic. Weber argued, rightly so, that the life cycles of consumer items in the 20th century must not have necessarily reduced. This simplistic story must be questioned critically. The importance of the designer can certainly provide information about the historical development in the field of obsolescence.

The Norwegian Ida Kamilla Lie (University of Oslo) presented first results of her PhD project (based on her master’s thesis), in which she dealt with Victor Papanek’s importance for Scandinavian design discourses. Papanek was active, from 1966 to 1970, in the Scandinavian Design Students Organization (SDO). Particularly important was the question of the social responsibility of designers to society. Lie pointed out,that Papanek played a key role for the former generation of buddying designers. At the same time, this example is a profound analysis of how design discourses were already globalised in the 1960s and 1970s and then rapidly and widely adopted.

Diagram_Tags_Umwelt

But what did the relationship of environmentalism and design mean in relation to the Federal Republic of Germany? I will try to discuss this shortly on the basis of published articles about environment and industrial design. The following graph shows the time distribution of published debate contributions, such as books, newspaper or magazine articles, which deal with „Umwelt“. This visualization of my literature database illustrates that the concept of environment was addressed from the 1960s to the 1990s onwards. Striking is the rapid increase from 1970 to 1972. A likely explanation could be the publication of Victor Papanek „Design for the Real World – Human Ecology and Social Change“ from 1971, as well as the publications of the Institut für Umweltplanung at Ulm (the successor of the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm). Papaneks book introduced the term “international environment” to the design discourse and experienced a varied reception.

Another interesting feature of this statistical distribution are the major differences between the years 1973-1974 and 1975-1976. The strong increase from 1973 to 1974 could be interpreted by the effects of the first oil crisis. This was a relevant development, which also affected the work of industrial designers. However, this shows that the environment was discussed by Papanek’s initiative in the Federal Republic until 1972. In the year 1973 significantly fewer players were published on aspects of the environment. This discussion is related again to the context of the oil price crisis of 1974.

The difference from 1975 to 1976 seems plausible if one considers that at the international ICSID Congress in Moscow 1975, the newly established Working Group „Environment and Design“ presented its results. The results of the ICSID working group were followed by a lot of West German Design, but not discussed further during the year 1976. Gabriele Oropallo (University of Oslo) deals with this aspect in his doctoral thesis. He presented parts of his research results at the above-mentioned workshop at the Rachel Carson Centre. Oropallos research will problematise and analyse the ICSID group, headed by GDR designer Martin Kelm. Remarkably, the contemporary understanding of the term environmental “Umwelt” is not congruent with the current meaning. Nevertheless this shift in meaning is also a big challenge for all researchers‘ in the history of design.