27 December 2017 -

Feature: A Note From Professor Jeremy Aynsley

To mark 2017 as our important joint anniversaries - 30 years since the first issue of the Journal of Design History and the 40 years since the formation of the Design History Society - we invited comments from a range of design historians who have participated in their shared histories (see below). Some of these come from former chairs of the Society, some from past editorial board members of the Journal, while others are reflections from regular contributors to our conferences and other Society events.

What comes across from these words is the importance of the Society and Journal in offering a sense of 'place' and belonging for all those interested to understand the designed and material world. This is most apparent in the commitment to provide a platform for innovative design historical research at the annual international conference and in the Journal, but also through other regular events, whether in the UK or beyond, and in our support for design historians at all stages of their career from our grants and awards.

We were first able to share these joint anniversaries with delegates at the 2017 anniversary annual conference Making and Unmaking the Environment hosted by Kjetil Fallan and colleagues at the University of Oslo in September. As part of this event, Grace Lees-Maffei organised a commemorative strand of three panels, Spaces and Places of Design History. Then, in late November, Harriet Atkinson and Sabrina Rahman arranged an anniversary celebration in the gallery at 70 Cowcross Street, Farringdon. As well as the cutting of a beautifully designed cake and a toast to the Society, ten design historians read short extracts from their work. The readings crossed the entire spectrum of our subject in topic, approach and style, with contributions ranging from established figures to young scholars, many holders of prizes and grants awarded by the Society. There followed an open and stimulating discussion about the past trajectory and future shape of Design History.

As we move forward, we are aware that the audience and readership of the Society and Journal go far beyond the actual individual membership. We remain committed to addressing the interests of designers and curators, and to identifying other organisations and other specialist societies with which to partner on new ventures, and we continue our responsibility to promote Design History as a vital field of study.

Professor Jeremy Aynsley
DHS Chair


Many congratulations to the Design History Society in its fortieth year. It's been almost twenty five years since I first benefited from the Society's support. I was trained first as an Art Historian then a Design Historian, have spent an academic and curatorial career largely focussing on fashion, style myself as a Cultural Historian and have engaged with a good dozen Societies, Trusts, Journals and special interest groups over the years. But the Design History Society is special in its ecumenical, all-embracing character. I value its support the most.

In 1993, having recently graduated from the V&A/RCA Postgraduate Programme in the History of Design and started my first full-time academic job in the pioneering art and design history department at Manchester Metropolitan University, I submitted a chapter of my Master's thesis to the Journal of Design History. It was my first publication, rigorously edited by Charlotte Benton. The same year I was persuaded to take up the role of Secretary of the Society by then Chair, and Manchester colleague, John Hewitt, and continued in the role with his successor, Jonathan Woodham. We convened for Saturday afternoon Committee meetings at the old Design Museum in Shad Thames before moving to the V&A Research Dept (who charged no room hire!). A decade later in 2002, by now working back in London, with a PhD and a Chair at the London College of Fashion, I took on the role of Chair of the Society from Barbara Burman, joining the Editorial Board of the Journal in an ex-officio capacity under the Directorship of Tim Putnam. From then until the end of my term as Chair in 2005 (when I passed the inherited cardboard boxes of files to Cheryl Buckley) I remember a series of memorable conferences in Norwich, Belfast, and London, along with the planning of what may have been the first international annual DHS conference in Delft.

More than a decade has passed since then, and whilst I have moved from London to Edinburgh, and from the Art School to the Museum and Gallery sector to the University and back again, the Design History Society has remained a constant, supporting scholarship and publication, encouraging diverse approaches and opening its boundaries, all the while benefitting from the generosity of its volunteer officers and editors, and building its strong relationships with Universities and Colleges, Museums and the Oxford University Press.

It is indeed a commonwealth of interests, and as a new generation steers its future, I have every faith that so long as Design and its cultures have meaning in the world, the Design History Society will survive and thrive for another forty years. Happy Birthday!

Christopher Breward


The Design History Society provided a subject 'home' for me - somewhere where I felt I belonged – and the fortieth anniversary of its founding has triggered a host of memories of the exciting period that led up to its foundation. For me, they begin with a new job and end with a new society. Looking back, the time gap between the two seems much shorter. For all of us involved in different ways, it was a fast learning curve at a time of great social, political and cultural change.

In the 1970s, for instance, the question of whether or not design historians should remain a ginger group within the Association of Art Historians (AAH) was much debated. I knew next to nothing about the association, but joined because so many people in the growing group of people involved with teaching design history belonged to it, and seemed to think there was scope within it for us. I recall things coming to a head during discussions about the AAH journal being too focused on painting and stylistic analysis, and an editor with little or no interest in the types of things we were trying to do. Ten years later I was privileged to be on the editorial board of the Journal of Design History, another anniversary to be celebrated as it now reaches its thirtieth year. I literally drew the longest straw when all ten editors pulled one out of a bunch in order to establish a rota for moving on and bringing in new editors. They were ten marvellous years. In those days all the editors met together four times a year to discuss each and every article submitted. We all had read and commented upon each one and we all learned a great deal from both those submissions and our discussions. When people ask me about models for running a journal, I always say that this is my ideal.

Pat Kirkham


The formation of the Design History Society was one of the achievements of the 3rd Design History Society conference, "Design History: Fad or Function?", held in Brighton in September 1977. For those educators working in faculties of art and design it was an important networking event. The papers published by the Design Council in 1978 presented questions about the relevance of design history to a wider audience.

Now, 40 years later, observations from Bevis Hillier in his review of the publication in Crafts Magazine (May/June 1979) are still worth remembering. Quoting James Holland from the publication, Hillier noted "The design historian must be a social historian in the widest sense, able to relate the design to the problems it attempts to solve, whether these concern energy sources, materials, or markets and demands".

The 1977 conference recognised the need for diversity and sought positive interaction with academics from related disciplines, such as art history and the history of technology, and dialogue with practising designers was always in evidence. Support from the Design Council was crucial for the early development of the Design History Society. Perhaps not so evident in 1977 was participation of an international audience, but that has developed considerably since then, and is an important aspect of current activities and events of the Society.

Suzette Worden


I remember how excited I was to find a discipline that I could feel very comfortable with — design history — more than twenty years ago. At that time, there was nowhere in Japan that offered "design history" at post-graduate level, and I, more interested in design in cultural and historical contexts, rather than art history or aesthetics, somehow belonged to the Area Studies division at my university. "Design History" as a subject was too new in Japan to find good quality critical writings, so I relied entirely on the Journal of Design History more than any other academic journal. Naturally, the first thing I did when I got a full-time job was to officially arrange my university's library to subscribe to the journal.

The Design History Society and the Journal offered us the working criteria when a group of Japanese design historians got together to set up a liberal academic gathering platform for design history. This was Design History Workshop Japan (DHWJ), established in 2002. Especially for the first years we have been directly helped by some DHS members in the UK, such as advice and support from late Gillian Naylor and Jeremy Aynsley (both of whom had been my supervisors at the Royal College of Art), the inaugural symposium panel lecture of the DHWJ from Jonathan Woodham, and a symposium panel lecture from Penny Sparke. We hope to continue many more trans-border liaisons with the DHS in the future.

Yasuko Suga


DHS was the starting point for the National Endowent for the Humanities Institute I proposed and directed with Carma Gorman in July 2015 to promote the teaching of design history in the United States (Teaching the History of Modern Design: The Canon & Beyond). DHS stands for the identity of a rich and developing interdisciplinary field of study; through its conferences and publications I've become part of a network of dedicated scholars and teachers who've made me feel most welcome over the past ten decades, and from whose generosity and open-mindedness I've benefitted immensely. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

David Raizman


The first 40 years of the Design History Society has seen it change from a comparatively informal and idiosyncratic gathering of enthusiasts for the development of design history across and beyond the academic curriculum, embracing art and design schools, polytechnics and universities, as well as museum curators and others. Its youthfulness, and even at times its seemingly iconoclastic outlook and willingness to embrace fresh approaches and avenues of enquiry, ensured an initially 'edgy' relationship with the more established body of art historians, a number of whom viewed design history as an offshoot of art history and under its aegis. From an early stage the DHS has energised many through the creation of a newsletter (an essential mouthpiece, rallying point and information base) and its association with many events, workshops and gatherings across the country, a strategy that has been considerably enhanced in the more recent past through the financial security that the DHS now enjoys.

However, in the period during which I was the Society's Chair, it proved very difficult to persuade the highly responsible Treasurer to release more of the considerable funding reserves for the creation of awards for a variety of design historical promotional purposes. This competitive financial support is now running at a high level, is clearly effective and expertly administered, and is a hallmark of the Society's centrality in promoting the discipline nationally and internationally. Early on the annual conference papers were published by the Design Council, a relationship that helped profile some of the Society's research and gave it a visibility it might not otherwise have had. In the more recent past, looking back over the 30 years since the Journal of Design History was founded with the support of Oxford University Press, the Society has slowly but incrementally built a sound international profile, its 2017 conference in Oslo demonstrating this by attracting delegates from more than 30 countries. Those running the Society today, as well as board members of the Journal, are generous with their time and expertise, are drawn from a healthy blend of age, experience and national perspectives able to develop ambitious and exciting new horizons.

Jonathan Woodham



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