A Design Trip Restored through Archive Research: Yun Wang reflects on a Visiting Research Fellow Scheme
Yun Wang was a Visiting Research Fellow (VRF) as part of the Centre for Design History’s International Scheme and a contributing author to International Design Organizations Histories, Legacies, Value.
Figure  “Crumbling Walls, New Dawn” by Robert L. Peters, President of Icograda from 2001-2003 on the 4th issue of Board Message (‘Issue 04, December 2002, Beijing/Taipei’, Cat no. ICO/8/1/5. ICOGRADA Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.)
On 10 November 2017, I participated in the International Design Organisations: Histories, Legacies, Values conference organised at the University of Brighton. In the conference, I presented my research on graphic design in China since 1980s to 2010 with focus on transcultural exchanges. It turned out to be a trip full of excitement when I had the opportunity to discuss the topic with colleagues from all over the world. The presentations of the conference were developed into a publication entitled International Design Organizations: Histories, Legacies, Values (Bloomsbury, London, 2022), which addresses the history and present-day status of national and international design organisations, working across design disciplines and located in countries including Argentina, Turkey, Estonia, Switzerland, Italy, China and the USA. It took 5 years from the submission of the first draft of the article to the publication of the book in 2022, during which time period, I had repeatedly revised the article under the guidance of Dr Souza Dias and Professor Jeremy Aynsley. In the process, my understanding of the topic had continued to develop. By the time when I received the book, I had been thinking about how to conduct further research on this topic.
I was very pleased to see the open call of Visiting Research Fellow (PGR) scheme at Centre for Design History, the University of Brighton. As I knew, there was comprehensive information about Icograda (the International Council of Graphic Design Associations) in the Design Archives, including the letters, exhibition brochure and schedule of activities of the Icograda board members from the establishment of the organisation in 1963 till the early 2000s. The opportunity to work as a VRF at the Centre for Design History means that I would be able to continue my research with this focus on new materials.
The experience at the Design Archives turned out to be a very rewarding trip full of excitement. By the time when I completed the research, I’d gone through nearly all the materials that were connected with the Icograda activities in China with full support from all of the archival staff. They were not only very professional but also full of passion for this archive work, which provided a wonderful environment for my research.
Every time after I travelled to the Design Archives to collect the research material, I would reflect on how this new evidence of China’s entry into the Council, and by implication international design communities, could be incorporated in my wider interest in the history of recent Chinese graphic design. For example, there were articles on the 4th issue of Board Message by the Icograda Board members after their first trip to China in the archive, including “Crumbling Walls, New Dawn” by Robert L. Peters, President of Icograda from 2001-2003 and “Chinese Culture Flows Like a Great River” by Jacques Lange, Board Member of Icograda from 2001-2003. [Figure 1] This was an interesting discovery because at present, the relevant information about Icograda that can be found online and in publications in China is mainly about its conference in Beijing in 2009, not on these earlier years of negotiation.By discovering the names of the designers mentioned in the issue, among them, the Chinese winners of the Icograda Achievement Awards of 2002, as well as the newly-accepted Icograda members, Suzhou Graphic Design Academy, Shanxi Graphic Design Association and Beijing Graphic Design Association, I began my search for these designers. Eventually, I got connected with the people in charge of the local design associations in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and Shan’xi through my network in the Chinese graphic design field. The materials they generously provided were based on their memories, answers to my interview questions and importantly for me, their own photos recording the events. These helped in reconstructing the scene at the time. [Figure 2] Through this exchange, I learned about their enthusiasm for joining Icograda, as well as the challenges faced in the actual communication process. Take for example, Language problem and communication barriers brought about by long distances. This was not only beneficial to my study on Icograda and Chinese design associations, but also an important part of my research into contemporary Chinese graphic design at the time of the nation’s opening up to the wider world.
Working on the Icograda archive in the Design Archives via VRF Scheme was a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my research on international design organisations and their connections with China. Besides, it was also an excellent chance for me to learn how to work in the archive efficiently, which I can carry forward for my future research. Finally, the research will form an important contribution to my forthcoming book, Contemporary Chinese Graphic Design Practice, to be submitted to Bloomsbury Academic later in the year.