Design History Society: The student experience

Doctoral student Ness Wood describes the student opportunities provided by the national Design History Society, and the role of the Student Officer in particular.

The Design History Society (DHS) was set up in 1977 as a means to promote and support research in the history of design in its broadest sense. The Journal of Design History, affiliated to the society, followed ten years later. In the first edition, editor Christopher Bailey stated that ‘we hope to bring coherence to the historical study of design’, stating that ‘the humblest object to the grand plan finds a place’. The society has also always sought to promote and develop the work of students of design history, through providing discounted membership and journal fees, research funding, essay prizes and also opportunities to participate in the running of the society.

The DHS is made up of eleven voluntary Committee members from across the country. The Chair, Dipti Bhagat, is Senior Lecturer in Design History at London Metropolitan University. In addition there is a Secretary, a Treasurer, a Membership Officer, a Communications Officer, an Essay Prize Officer, a Teaching and Learning officer, a Research Grant Officer, a Conference Liaison Officer, the Chair of the Journal of Design History Editorial Board and the Student Officer (my role). University of Brighton lecturers, Charlotte Nicklas and Annebella Pollen, are both committee members.

The Executive Committee meets every two months in central London to discuss DHS matters, such as the organisation of the annual conference. In 2012, the conference was organised by Dr. Paul Jobling at Brighton and was entitled The Material Cultural of Sport: Design, History, Identity. The previous year, the venue was Barcelona and the topic was Design Activism and Social Change. This year’s conference, Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives, is to be held in Ahmedabad, India, and it is the first DHS conference to be held outside of Europe, reflecting the increasing relevance of design as a global discipline. The DHS are able to support some student conference places as part of a bursary. Executive meetings might also involve discussions about Day Seminars, which have included one at Brighton on Design History in East Asia, organized by Dr. Yunah Lee, one at Edinburgh College of Art/University of Edinburgh devoted to craft and one at University of Wolverhampton about country houses. Each were paid for by DHS funding.

I have been the DHS Student Officer for the past 18 months. Studying the History of Design at the University of Brighton for both my BA and my MA developed my passion for all things designed and that is why I applied for the position. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Executive Committee. Although the meetings are formal, the Committee is both welcoming and supportive. My role involved being responsible for and responding to student queries. This meant liaising with other members of the committee about student matters and generally representing student interests.

As the Student Officer, one of my core tasks was to manage the Student Travel Award to which students are encouraged to apply. It is certainly worth considering making an application as a sum of up to £500 can be granted. The award can be used to fund travel, accommodation and photocopying costs incurred when researching. My role involved making sure that the award is advertised by a variety of means, including word of mouth, email, Twitter and posters. I was also the point of contact for students who applied for the award. As Student Officer I was also responsible for managing the award-winning students’ reports. Successful students must report on their research and send in a written piece to the DHS. The articles are then published in the DHS electronic newsletter. Other Student Officer tasks can include reviewing exhibitions or events for the DHS newsletter. Writing for the newsletter was a great experience and also good practice for essays. I wrote about the V&A’s exhibition, British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, as well as a piece about a student publishing workshop held at the 2012 conference in Brighton.

To take on the responsibility of the Student Officer post one needs to be dedicated, organized and have some knowledge of social media, as well as having ideas about how the student role could develop. I am now stepping down from the role to concentrate on my PhD studies and so the DHS will be looking for a replacement. Good luck to the next candidate!

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