The Writing Design project also includes The Design History Reader (2010) which explores the history of design, and design history through textual works by designers and design historians.

The most recent output from my Writing Design Project is Reading Graphic Design in Cultural Context, a book I co-authored with Dr Nicolas P. Maffei (Norwich University of the Arts).

Drawing on our experience of teaching graphic design students for more than two decades, Nic and I show how graphic design plays a profoundly important social role, and is best understood as existing within a range of cultural contexts. These aspects of the field are not always communicated in existing accounts and the survey texts that are used in teaching graphic design history to undergraduate design students. We hope our book will be widely read and used by all who wish to understand more about the work of graphic design in the expanded field.

Funding

  • 2011: Design History Society Research Award, £700 for Writing Design: Words and Objects

  • 2008: Design History Society Research Award, £1500 for The Design History Reader

  • 2005: Design History Society Event Award, £300 for 'Show/Tell: Relationships between Text, Narrative and Image', TVAD Conference, 12 September 

  • 2004: Design History Society Event Award, £350 for 'Relationships between Text, Narrative and Image', TVAD Symposium, 8 July

Writing Design Project

A strand of my work on mediation entails consideration of the ways in which writing constitutes design. Writing is present at all stages of the design lifecycle.

In 2009, I conceived and co-convened the Design History Society annual conference on the theme Writing Design: Object, Process, Discourse, Translation at the University of Hertfordshire:

this conference encouraged participants to reflect on their sources, historiography and methodology, research, dissemination and teaching processes to examine the issues mobilised by articulating design and material culture with language and the ways in which writing about objects has conditioned our understanding of design. Keynote speakers were Prof. Jeffrey Meikle and Dr. Paul Jobling.

Browse the conference programme here

From the conference, I sole-edited two publications.

  1. Writing Design: Words, Myths and Practices (2010), a special issue of Writing Visual Culture, which:

  • showcases studies of specific words relevant to understanding of the place of language in design,

  • studies of the myths which support our understanding of design and

  • the place of language in design practice. 

2. Writing Design: Words and Objects (Berg 2012) is a sole-edited collection of essays developed from the peer reviewed conference papers. The book asks:

How do we learn about the objects that surround us? As well as gathering sensory information by viewing and using objects, we also learn about objects through the written and spoken word - from shop labels to friends' recommendations and from magazines to patents. But, even as design commentators have become increasingly preoccupied with issues of mediation, the intersection of design and language remains under-explored.Writing Design provides a unique examination of what is at stake when we convert the material properties of designed goods into verbal or textual description. Issues discussed include the role of text in informing design consumption, designing with and through language, and the challenges and opportunities raised by design without language.

Read more about the book Writing Design: Words and Objects.

In 2016, I revisited my thinking on Writing Design for a keynote lecture at the NORDCODE (Nordic Network for Research on Communicative Product Design) conference at the University of Southern Denmark in Kolding, titled ‘The Mediation Focus in Design History: An Intellectual History’. Here I added to the ‘Production-Consumption-Mediation Paradigm’ further consideration of design without words, which was raised in Writing Design: Words and Objects, and a new consideration of the literary value of writing about design. At the invitation of Prof Anne Massey, I developed this for publication as a chapter ‘The Written Object’ for her edited book A Companion to Contemporary Design since 1945 (2019). During the writing process, I delivered a research seminar presentation available to watch here:

Since the Production-Consumption-Mediation paradigm was posited in 2009, new research has emphasised the importance of words in understanding design. Design journalism, for example, has been critically important in shaping the ways in which we conceive of, and consume, design. And web 2.0, for instance, has complicated the notions of authority upon which design journalism and design criticism have existed. Bloggers and vloggers are now recognised as prime influencers, and their influence extends more and more into mainstream media. We can identify some new directions for the study of the written object, or more inclusively, words and design. Firstly, the relationship between design and literature has so far remained largely untouched by design historians. Literary sources do not rely for their status, influence and authority upon the veracity with which they describe design, but they have a great deal to tell us about design, and design of the past. By the same token, we might examine the literary and aesthetic merit of design criticism and design journalism. Secondly, the chapter poses a rhetorical question: Is it possible to communicate about design in a non-verbal way?

The research and outputs produced so far within my Writing Design project pave the way for future planned research on design and literature, and literature as design discourse.