This week sees the launch of our new seminar series Hidden Histories: Gender in Design. The theme to begin the series is ‘Gender in Design Histories: Historiography and Methodology’. DHS Ambassador Alexandra Banister meets Dr Lee Wright, Senior Lecturer in the History and Theory of Design at Liverpool John Moores University, Dr Melanie Levick-Parkin, Senior Lecturer in Design at Sheffield Hallam University, and Dr Eve Stirling, Principal Lecturer in Design at Sheffield Hallam University, to further discuss their research. Don’t forget you can sign up to the talk – taking place on Thursday 7th April, 7.30pm BST – for free via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e...
What are your backgrounds and how did you develop your interests in design history?
Lee Wright (LW): I studied The History of Design MA at Middlesex University in the second student cohort 1982 -84. Previously, I was an undergraduate in Product Design, (one of only a few female students in a male dominated course including all male staff). I pursued design practice through museum studies and in 1981 I won a scholarship to a summer school to study Decorative Arts and Design at Emerson College in Boston USA, which inspired me to find an MA in design history in the UK.
Melanie Levick-Parkin (MLP): I studied visual communication in the late 90’s and then worked in the industry for a bit before becoming an academic. While I studied my work often had a gender focus, which I picked back up when starting my doctorate in 2013 and which helped me to better understand design in the context of feminist theory and history. This history enabled me to situate lived experiences of being in design as a woman in the broader context of feminist critique and things finally started making sense.
Eve Stirling (ES): Studied Design for Industry in the late 90s and then worked in retail and office interiors and games design before moving into academia. My work is often in conjunction with historians. I value drawing on experiences of the past to help us understand the present and make better futures.
What does your research focus on?
LW: Issues of gender and its impact on, in and to women and design.
MLP: Design anthropology, women’s material practices and material agency, Design Ontology.
ES: Regenerative research methods to support the move to Real Zero drawing on eco feminist theory.
Your talk is part of a wider seminar series on Hidden Histories: Gender in Design, how does this apply to your work?
LW: Since the 1980s I have researched and published on a wide variety of gender and design issues including photography. I consider it to be a personal activist approach. While there is a resurgence of interest every so often, I still find it to be a shadow history which has resonance with a younger generation of practitioners and theorists.
MLP: At some point during my travels within feminism and design history, it became pivotal to understand that we can not re-define our futures successfully without re-examining the past. The constructedness of our ‘design being’ becomes much clearer when we zoom out and the road ahead less circumscribed by our own embodied design beliefs. Being interested in Archaeology and the material record also helped.
ES: Women’s role in design was somewhat hidden to me through my university training (that did not include any feminist theory) and my experience was one of being encultured into being part of the patriarchy. Now, I am engaging with intersectional feminist theory and the design justice framework to shine a light on the problematic relationship between design and the planet, it is important to acknowledge the histories gone before.
Please tell us a bit more about an interesting piece of design you have discovered as part of your research.
LW: On thinking about the Gender and Design Research Network launched at SHU, I recalled the conference and document of 1986 which I had kept since its occurrence (A Resource Book on Women Working in Design – Issues and problems confronted by women in their education and careers in Design). This document resonated with us and we wanted to open space to learn from and share the intergenerational experiences of the women working in Design. Thinking about which other intersectional voices are ‘hidden’ (silenced and cancelled) given we are still having some of the same conversations that took place 36 years ago.