Review: Sifting the Trash
Just published online in Design issues is my review of Alice Twemlow’s excellent book Sifting the Trash: A History of Design Criticism. Design Issues and Sifting the Trash are both published by the MIT Press. My review is, unfortunately, behind a paywall, but as a glimpse into what I wrote, here is part of my introduction:
The book is premised on an extended metaphor, that design criticism is a process of “sifting the trash,” rescuing certain examples of design from the scrap heap and consigning others to oblivion. There are two layers of sifting, though, as Twemlow has also sifted the history of design criticism to discuss what she considers to be the most salient examples in this book. The five chapters focus on a few years from each decade, 1955–2007.
Using a handful of case studies, Twemlow’s book proposes not only that design criticism is an intervention in design, but also that design practice and exhibitions of design can be construed as design criticism. She does this very engagingly, in an engrossing and informative story. You can read the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Sifting the Trash on Alice’s Academia.edu page, here.
Although I don’t mention it in my review, I was interested in reviewing this book as part of my career-long concern for the way design is written about, demonstrated in my Writing Design project and book Writing Design: Words and Objects, which examines design criticism as a way of ‘righting design’ or reforming it, alongside sections on the role of writing as mediating between design and consumption, language as a medium for design, and design without words. My most recent study of design criticism is a chapter ‘The Written Object: Design Journalism, Consumption and Literature since 1945’ in A Companion to Contemporary Design Since 1945, edited by Anne Massey (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 299-325), forthcoming in 2019. In that chapter, I examine the history of design journalism since 1945 using examples from the UK and France within the contexts of the role of words in the design lifecycle and the mediation turn in design history. Watch this space for more information and news of its publication.
In reviewing Sifting the Trash, I conclude that the book:
has been one of the books I have most enjoyed reading in the past couple of years, and it represents a valuable contribution to design discourse.