During the academic year 2021/2022, the Centre for Design History (CDH) has hosted various seminars as part of its commitment to fostering a more diverse future for histories of design. The seminar series Expanding Graphic Design Histories (EGDH) was organised with the intention of gathering fellow design historians and practitioners to discuss current research being undertaken and, more importantly, to focus on controversial areas of debate that need further addressing within the field of graphic design histories.
The organisation of the seminar series took shape as a follow up to a workshop held in May 2021 by Professor Jeremy Aynsley and Dr Harriet Atkinson, who co-lead CDH’s Graphic Design Histories strand, and took place alongside the British Academy Writing Workshops co-organised by Dr Annebella Pollen, University of Brighton and Professor Priscila Farias from the University of São Paulo. The timely realisation of parallel workshops and seminar series further facilitated exchanges among fellow design historians working in different contexts, particularly from the UK and Brazil.
Commencing in October 2021, the EGDH series was intended as an opportunity for informal meetings that might allow for connections to be made and lead to further conversations on how to rethink the future of graphic design histories. Given the context created by the pandemic, the series attempted to make the most of the limitations in place, by turning it into an opportunity for meetings of a more transnational remit.
The programme was set up with regular monthly seminars focusing on the issues faced by historians and practitioners looking at design across what could be understood as borders, be them geographical, linguistic, cultural or of any other nature.
The series started off with a riveting round table following three short talks on ‘Design Translation: Design History across Boundaries and the Hegemony of the English Language.’ Dr Gustavo Orlando Fudaba Curcio Lecturer at Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, shared his perspective on ‘Crossing National and Linguistic Boundaries,’ particularly addressing the challenges of working in one language but being expected to publish in English and how might the translation of sources take place. Curcio also talked about the quirks of the Brazilian colloquial adoption of the words ‘design’ and ‘designer’, as they are, within daily Brazilian contexts. Dr Chiara Barbieri, Research Fellow at ECAL / University of Art and Design Lausanne, talked about her perspective across British, Swiss, and Italian contexts, and how academic expectations vary across borders. Barbieri addressed the specifics of the Italian context, as well as the challenges of publishing, suggesting that journal publications in specific languages have different value in different contexts. Following Barbieri, Dr Yun Wang, Lecturer at the China Design Museum, China Academy of Art, compared her experiences in British and Chinese academia, as well as the issues with translation and writing across languages in her talk ‘Lost in Translation’. Wang also shared the most relevant Chinese platforms, journals and academic publishers in the field.
In the second seminar, graphic designer and PhD Candidate at Brighton, Isabel Duarte, shared her experience co-leading the independent research project ‘Errata’ with graphic designer Olinda Martins. The project focused on creating more visibility to the work of Portuguese women within Portuguese graphic design histories, by disseminating the research via an ongoing series of podcasts, publications and an exhibition. Duarte highlighted the theoretical frameworks underlying the work done by Errata to ‘uncover the invisible stories of women designers in Portugal and facilitate dialogues exploring methods of improving gender representation in graphic design history.’ More about Errata can be found in its Manifesto and Podcasts at www.errata.design/en/ and also in Errata’s exhibition catalogue.
In January 2022, after the winter break, the seminars resumed with a round table focusing on translation of practice both in the field of graphic design as well as within graphic design history. Dr Vaibhav Singh, Independent Typeface Designer and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Reading, shared his perspective on how design practices might translate in different geographical and cultural contexts and how that might affect practice. Dr Dora Souza Dias focused on the training undertaken by design historians in Brazil and what she named as the ‘ritual of passage’ for design historians in the Brazilian context which includes lengthy considerations and contextualisation of the words ‘design,’ ‘modern’ and ‘Modernism’. The discussion that followed offered interesting perspectives on the analysis of the materiality of typography in colonial contexts, considering concerns related to integrity within the development of typefaces, but also how coloniality can be reflected within the text and also in the type itself.
February’s seminar focused on ‘Histories and Contemporary Practices of Publication Design in the Arab World.’ Dr Zeina Maasri, Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, contextualised modernity and graphic design within the Arab context, setting the scene for the presentations by visual artist, designer and educator Jana Traboulsi and graphic designer and author Karl Bassil. Traboulsi talked about her book Kitab Al Hawamesh (The Book of Margins) recently exhibited at the V&A as part of the Jameel Prize finalists, and Bassil presented his new photobook, Becoming Van Leo (Arab Image Foundation and Archive Books 2021). The round table that followed included discussions about modernity and transnational exchanges, and how these affect practice.
In the last session of this year’s series, we held the launch of The Other Design Histories Network and a round-table discussion with its founding members. The aim of The Other DHN is to create a safe space through networking and collaborative events for those who find themselves part of ‘other’ed groups. This initiative has been kick-started by Associate Lecturer and PhD Candidate Elli Michaela Young in association with Dr Megha Rajguru, Dr Zeina El Maasri, Dr. Yunah Lee, PhD Candidate Zara Arshad from the University of Brighton, Dr Sabrina Rahman based at the University of Exeter and Dr Dora Souza Dias from UAL Chelsea. The network is aimed initially at academics working in universities across the UK to come together to discuss shared concerns and experiences of/within academia, museums or institutions without fear of being further marginalised or reprimanded. To join the network, email email@example.com to request a membership form. The initial steps will involve the setting up of a group mailing list in which members will be free to discuss any issues.
This first year of the seminar series, held online, has allowed for compelling discussions related to the world of graphic design history and practice. It has also made clear that historians and practitioners everywhere face many common issues, particularly among those working in contexts that have been – or still are – marginalised in some way. In fact, the many commonalities amongst the latter makes us wonder if it is not the ‘centre’ that is the odd one out in relation to our understanding of modernity.
These seminars have turned out to be a platform for conversations and exchanges about challenges faced by many of us –as design historians or as graphic designers– and also discussions about ways to take these debates forward. That said, plans are being made for a new series to take place in 2022/2023, as usual on the last Thursday of each month during the British academic year. More details to follow in the next months. We hope you will join us.