Student-led exhibition explores the nature of design this summer.

The exhibition, titled Design Matters, will feature objects chosen by 14 MA and PhD students which they consider to be particularly ingenious examples of design. These objects could be made by the students or something of historical, social or cultural significance.

The exhibition is supported by the Centre for Design History (CDH) to help students present their research to the wider community. Nicola Miles, the CDH PhD representative organising Design Matters, said: “The main focus of the exhibition is how individuals engage with design. What is unusual is that it is created by a group of students from different design backgrounds, including both designers who make objects as well as design historians and curators who study them.”

The objects chosen range from illustrated books, film, ghungroos for Kathak dance, a recreated 1960s dress, a mid-20th century compact mirror with a surprise component and a porcelain doll to homemade DIY solutions to everyday domestic problems.

Nicola added: “By directly engaging with an object or objects of design through the process of creating an exhibit and explaining the significance of each object, the students and the viewer have the potential to interact with these objects from a different perspective to gain a deeper understanding of the purpose and design qualities of each piece.”

The students come from a range of disciplines including design and material culture, photography, illustration, and curation and heritage. Sophie-Maris Hoelge, studying for a History of Design and Material Culture MA, said: “Design Matters is a collaboration between students of our University community inspired by the design that is all around us. It is important to us to show that design does not only benefit those who are aware of its ideas and is not only for the enjoyment of those professionally trained to appreciate its ingenuity.”

Sophie-Maris, who has chosen to exhibit a mid-20th century compact mirror, added: “Granted that everyone has a slightly different definition of what it means to design and be designed, this exhibition will introduce you to the impact that design has on the world we live in and how people are personally influenced by design every day, sometimes without being aware of its existence or relevance.”​​​​​​​

Lois Ellett, a Sequential Design/Illustration MA student, has gone further back in time for her choice: illustrated versions of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a collection of poetry attributed to an 11th-century poet and astronomer and translated into English verse in 1859. She said: “Until the mid-20th century this was the most popular and most-frequently illustrated poetry book. Today it is rarely known. My display contains some of the remarkable illustrated Rubaiyat books that reside in the University’s special collection.”

Sally Jones, also studying for a History of Design and Material Culture PhD, has chosen to display a miniature porcelain doll made in Germany in the mid-19th century. Dolls such as this are commonly known as ‘Frozen Charlottes’ after an American poem from 1843 about a girl who froze to death on a sleigh ride to a ball one winter’s evening.

However, Sally researched the history of the doll for her dissertation and found a more layered tale. “It’s often shared on the internet as a creepy Victorian cautionary tale,” she said, “but I’ve found that actually she had many other uses and meanings which were nothing to do with a frozen body!”

Sally added: “Focusing my study on this one tiny doll has opened up a fascinating history of German ceramic production, London street sellers, and myth-making, and has shown how our understanding of an object can change over time. This exhibition is a great opportunity to showcase some of the work we’ve been doing to a wider audience.”

Design Matters will be on show in Pavilion Parade foyer and St Peter’s House Library from 17 August to 14 October. The Centre for Design History also ran a Making Exhibitions Day in May; read more here.


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