When the pandemic seized our world and meeting in person was not possible, suddenly the virtual environment took on a role for maintaining ties on a general human level and a practical level keeping our studies going. This quick shift to online academics however felt at first dry and lacklustre but got me thinking: what sparks my interest and creativity in life, in academics and in the 2D realm? How might we combine them? I found myself wanting a more visual and personal way of interaction. Inspired by Instagram Live broadcasts of some UK university art schools and artists, a DHS Book Circle, the Design in Quarantine team and artist talks with galleries (Bob & Roberta Smith and Grayson Perry were both immensely cheerful), the professionalism and humanity of these resonated with me. As such the idea of a Virtual Student Forum came about: to share our challenges of doing design research and practice now, to stimulate our creativities by engaging with each other (in this twilight zone of being locked in/down/in place/without touch or space), to reach beyond our own academic research programmes and to connect with like-minded people around the globe. Embracing the virtual, this series of events enables design history students and design practice community, from any place and time zone, to have a deep discussion or a water-cooler chat around some of our favourite topics and be excited to exchange ideas.
What we’re doing
Working with DHS we created a hybrid: the Virtual Design History Student Forum, open to anyone in the wider field of design/history/research, seeks to connect young researchers, undergraduates and designers, across universities and practices and to create an informal environment for growing our profession. The project fosters an open, academic and friendly environment, one of inclusive, high quality work and live(ly) discussion. With each session we challenge ourselves to think broadly about what it means to be a design historian today.
Collectively we decided on four diverse events that contribute to the overall mission of the Design History Society and, hoping to see each other somehow at the annual conference in Basel, as a culmination of our work this year. These events are held via Zoom as a platform which allows for sessions to be recorded and archivable with the Design History Society, and ultimately accessible to a wider audience.
Events this year
The first event in October featured the Design In Quarantine team, Fleur Elkerton and Anna Talley, discussing their project on real-time archiving of design responses during the pandemic. This Zoom event was wonderfully attended and encouraged a great participation from the audience, generating discussions around methodologies of the archive, selections and omissions, taxonomies, (dis)ordering/randomness/looseness of the works and their presence on the archive website, institutional archival affiliations and other born-digital archive-as-design practices.
The second event took place on 2 Feb 2021, led by DHS Ambassadors Alex Todd, Andrea Foffa and DHS Virtual Design History Awardee Denise Lai, approaching the question from various perspectives: what does it mean to be a design historian? They spoke about their work and inspirations for being in this field, what a ‘day in the life’ looks like and the shapes of their research now. This sparked questions and lively discussions around open ownership of archives, narratives of objects and images, design as political means and design historians of the future.
The third event on 13 April will look broadly at DHS and social media. Led by DHS Ambassador Gael Welstead, DHS Administrator Jenna Allsopp and DHS Communications Officer Artun Özgüner, we will discuss design history in its different forms of communication, how we might push the boundaries of design history in our work and as a human practice, ‘giving it a face’. This session invites questions from the audience, what does a design history community mean to you and where might we go from here?
And on the 1st of June, we will hold our fourth virtual student forum event as Lightning Talks. Led by Jennifer McHugh, students are invited to present an element of their design history research by showing a related image, object or point of their research. This gives an opportunity for us across the design history field as students to give a brief presentation of our work, in a friendly environment and hopefully build your CV. In each of these events, all participants are invited to ask questions and engage in discussion as we encourage each other in our virtual environment of design in active history.
Finally, thank you to DHS for supporting our projects and facilitating these rewarding exchanges.
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Jennifer McHugh is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. Her research interests include graphic design, Eastern Europe, archives and biennials.