«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!

 

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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.