9 January 2020 -

Report: DHS Conference Bursary by Saurabh Tewari

It is my pleasure to report the visit to the Design History Society's Annual Conference 2019: The Cost of Design organised at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne. I am thankful to the Design History Society's Conference Bursary, which facilitated my participation at the event.

My paper, Design, Continuums, and Development in a Periphery's periphery: An account from the Ziro Valley, was placed in the session, 'Design Solutions to Changing Economies', along with the presentations by Dr Sarah Teasley (Head, Design History Department, Royal College of Art, London) and Daniela Salgado (a researcher from Chile based in the University of Brussels). Portraying Japan as post-growth economy with high migration to cities, ageing population, less economic activities, Teasley, presented the maker-culture of Yamagata prefecture. She proposed the exploration of cross-paradigmatic relevance of design practices into the other context.

Salgado, working on craft production culture in Chile, highlighted the dialectics between the craftsmen and designers in the neo-liberal context. My paper forwarded the literature from Design History's critical debates, 'centre-periphery', 'global-national-local' and 'decolonising design', as I analysed the construction of unique practices vis-à-vis cultural continuums of the indigenous communities in the Ziro Valley. Through a design-ethnography approach, my paper examined the cost of design (as development) in three realms of design-culture as environmental, cultural, economic. Together, the three papers represented a diverse cultural-geography but a common discourse of 'centre-periphery' design culture in the neo-liberal context. The session chair, Prof Jo Briggs, School of Design, discussed the options of decolonising the design-culture models through these global perspectives.

The two other sessions I enjoyed were Typographic Transactions comprising papers by Tai Cossich, Vaibhav Singh and Rathna Ramanathan, and the Impact of Economic Systems, involving Spike Sweeting, Rujana Rebernjak and Erica Morawski. The former, looked into the typographic expressions, mechanisation, and economics, in the cultural contexts beyond the West. Vaibhav Singh unearthed the twentieth-century negotiation of typography with infrastructure, mechanisation, economics and politics, as comparative cases from Asia including India, China, Korea and Japan. The later, Impact of Economic Systems, looked into the dynamic relationship between the economy, environment and society. Sweeting critically posed the environmental dimension into the history of development, here through the British history of technology. He provoked the choice of Design historians for their research objects. Further he questioned the ontological ides of design. Morawski looked into the most ubiquitous graphic design example, Liberta, of Socialist Cuba's ration coupons. She highlighted the politics and conflicts of design for intended equitable distribution in the citizens choices, needs and desires.

From the Keynotes, I enjoyed Tereza Koldova's paper on Luxury and Corruption. Koldova, a social anthropologist, unfolded the unethical practices in design culture across the world as she speculated the logics of corruption in the neo-liberal scenario. Her case studies travelled across the geographical and economic globe to unearth the patterns of ethics, luxury and corruption. Her summation was profound with a call to move from 'design of luxury' to 'design of transparency' and possible tropes around. Interestingly, Koldova's doctoral research work was on the corruption in Chikankari craft practices in Lucknow. It was a pleasant surprise to converse with her in Lakhnawi Urdu. The other keynote, Guy Julier: a Design theorist, deconstructed the web of systems, historically, and its cost.

The conference witnessed participation from the vast geographies. I think, my contribution from India and its geographical periphery, Ziro Valley, fitted well into the theme of the conference, the cost of design, analysing the cost as development in a 'tentative' World Heritage Site. Once again, I would like to appreciate the DHS' initiatives in providing waivers and grants to presenters, especially research scholars.


Saurabh Tewari is is a Doctoral Candidate at the Design Programme, IIT Kanpur researching on Design History of India. He is Assistant Professor at the Department of Design, School of Planning and Architecture Bhopal. He studied Architecture at SSAA Gurgaon and Communication Design at IDC, IIT Bombay. As one of the co-initiators of the Master of Design program at SPA Bhopal with an integral focus on Socio-Cultural Design, he sees Design History as one of the critical tools to advance the paradigm of Design Education and Research. He can be found at


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