AIS/Design. Storia e Ricerche, call n. 14 – Relational Geographies in the History of Design

Relational Geographies in the History of Design


“Design is simultaneously global, regional, national and local.” (Calvera 2005)

credits: Mario Piazza

For some time now, history of design at international level has broadened its geographic horizons, overcoming the limits of a view restricted to events in Europe and North America, typical of the tradition of Anglophone historiography, which dominated the culture of this field of studies for a century. The necessity of an inclusive history of design has found ever-greater space in the last decades in international conferences dedicated to this issue and in a large number of studies and publications. A necessity that emerged and intertwined with the studies that claimed the liberation of the peripheral countries from the dominion of the countries in the centre in political, cultural, social and economic fields.

Therefore, we shall only refer to few examples, starting from the one we deem to be particularly emblematic: the 2013 Design History Society conference, held in Ahmedabad (India), on the theme Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives. It was the first Design History Society conference that took place outside Europe. The stated objective was to discuss the nature, role and future of design within cultures, geographic areas and networks other than those most traditionally explored in Europe and North America. Since its second international conference on La emergencia de las historias regionales, held in Havana in 2000, also the International Committee for Design History and Design Studies (ICDHS) has worked on improving the understanding of the differences – rather than focusing on the conformity of the design histories – and on the meaning of local, periphery, area of influence in the era of globalization.

The necessity to direct research toward a less partial vision of the development of design at a global level has materialized in specific studies which have contributed to give us back a fairly broad panorama of histories in different geographic contexts.

Nowadays, collective works are available at national or even continental level (Fernández & Bonsiepe, 2008; Kikushi, 2011; Kikushi & Yunah, 2014) and, at the same time, many histories and micro-histories exist at a local level, with great care given to both production and communication. We should then add to all this the opening of design history to a global approach to history, better known as World History (Di Fiore & Meriggi, 2014; Conrad, 2016), which, starting from contributions such as the ones by Glenn Adamson, Giorgio Riello and Sarah Teasley (2011), leads us to Victor Margolin’s impressive work of geographical extension by his World Design History (2015)[1].

More recently, the work of Grace Lees-Maffei and Kjetil Fallan (2016) questions the concept of nation as the appropriate reference framework to study design in the contemporary world, which thrives on the dynamic interplay of mutual International and National influences. The authors adopt an alternative to world histories, which tend to generalization and homologation due to objective conditions and the need for simplification. Actually, the effect of this crosswork has led to challenging a series of historiographic constructs that prevailed throughout the twentieth century. Beside the idea of national identity, the very possibility of confining design to a geopolitical area is questioned. We have to remember that design itself was born to serve the capitalistic production system, devoted to expanding its market opportunities worldwide since the very beginning. Moreover, the space-time extension has undermined the concept of design as an activity purely linked to the industrial system, considering that, it has included non-industrial or pre-industrial material cultures.

For this reason, research on crafts, local products and materials, specific cultural connotations of objects and their uses, areas and populations far from the dominant socio-economic development have been integrated, embracing research methods of anthropology and ethnography.

In Italy, instead, a tradition of studies strongly related to defined territorial areas is still dominant: the Milanese context, the single productive districts, and the national context. If, on the one hand, research has been developed to allow some meaningful cases to emerge –such as schools, initiatives and protagonists from Southern Italy–, on the other hand, close attention to the relationships between different realities within the country and the country itself is not always there.

With this call, we aim at focusing on design history studies which deal with modernity and crucial contemporary issues, characterized by the global market, communication and movements, relational networks, multiculturalism, and the relativization of the concepts of progress and development in different geographic contexts, bringing out the latter as elements of continuity or discontinuity with twentieth-century historiography and Italian design history, as written to date. The purpose is not purely to let any new geographies emerge, bringing to light places and experiences in the shadows so far. Rather, it is to understand how the extensive system of relationships developed in time has operated, also with regard to its protagonists or the well-known companies involved.

Inspired by the geographic theme and the relational paradigm (both in geography and in sociology), we would like to bring out historical research that focuses on the networks of relationships, on the interplay between different contexts and ways of thinking-doing design with mutual influences on which non-linear, but rather mobile, variable and interconnected design paths are built. We are therefore thinking of historical-geographical reconstructions and relational maps as a model for reading, interpreting and organizing the history of projects, products, productions, practices, processes, and theories, which have a varied territorial articulation. However, also to particular historiographical cuts, coming from media and gender studies, but also the history of things and technology, as long as they highlight the relationships and influences of the different geographic and cultural contexts in their paths.

With specific reference to the Italian context, by adopting this new critical reading approach, histories of design on relationships between centre and periphery, so far enclosed in the stereotype “Milan / rest of Italy”, and between regional and national contexts may now emerge. Such histories have been excluded from the narration until now. Furthermore, the interactions and mutual influences between different contexts may be explored but, this time, both ways: if the prevailing relationships –those of colonization, of the transfer of strong models to weak ones– have already been explored, it is now interesting to investigate whether and how the reverse process has taken place, with influences and conditioning effects from peripheral areas on those in the centre.

The same applies to a wider contextualization, therefore referring to contexts, relationships and events not necessarily related to Italian design. Then, attention could be directed towards the relationship between local and global, highlighting its intrinsic intersubjectivity and the transformation of the global through the local. Design histories could emerge in the European, Mediterranean or transoceanic area, in the context of transnational relationships that highlight the effects of the interconnections between designers and companies, and the flows of people, information, technologies and goods between neighboring countries or countries linked by other types of relationships. Historical reflection could concern multidisciplinarity, differences and commonalities, influences between different points of view, interdependencies and comparisons in design practices and productions according to a geopolitical articulation that affects different areas of the world. The relationships between the protagonists of Italian design and international associations could be investigated; mutual relations and influences between Italian design schools and between these and European models; the assimilation of new ways of working in the context of industrial or communication design. The consequences of the first phase of industrial relocation on the ways of working of companies with designers could be put in the spotlight, with a focus on the change of the nineties with the arrival in Italy of foreign designers.


The call aims to address the theme of “Relational geographies in history of design” concerning design methodologies and theories as well as project practices in its various forms (product, service, visual communication, spaces / environmental design, …) and to collect historical and / or critical contributions on issues like the followings:

  • experiences, relating to places and contexts, which have remained unexplored or little investigated in the history of Italian and international design that can highlight new maps and geographies of history;
  • networks and relationship dynamics between designers, schools / institutions, companies, organizations / associations developed along along lines such as center-periphery, local-global, national-international;
  • cases of interactions, influences and reciprocal influences between different contexts both ways, or the transfer of design, production, theoretical models from peripheral areas to those of the center;
  • relations between designers or enterprises and international associations that have stimulated changes in the design culture;
  • changes in the organization of work, design, production, distribution and consumption due to relationships, exchanges and comparisons of different points of view linked to different contexts;
  • other issues consistent with the aims of the call.

Keywords: design history, relational geography, local, national, international, global, network, center, periphery, context-related, decolonization, design culture and industrial culture.


Adamson, G., Riello, G., Teasley, S. (2011) (eds.). Global Design History, London: Routledge.

Conrad, S. (2015). Storia globale: un’introduzione. Roma: Carocci.

Dalla Mura, M. (2017). Victor Margolin, “world history of design”. AIS/Design. Storia  e Ricerche, 10, ID:1013.

Di Fiore, L. & Meriggi, M. (2014). World history. Le nuove rotte della storia, Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Fallan, K. & Lees-Maffei, G. (2016) (eds.). Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization. New York: Berghahn.

Fernández, S. & Bonsiepe, G. (2008) (eds.). Historia del diseño en América Latina y el Caribe. Industrialización y comunicación visual para la autonomía. Saõ Paulo: Editora Blücher.

Huppatz, D. J. (2015). Globalizing Design History and Global Design History. Journal of Design History, 2 (28).

Kikushi, Y. (2011). Design Histories and Design Studies in East Asia: Part 1. Journal of Design History, 3 (24).

Kikushi, Y. & Yunah, L. (2014). Transnational Modern Design Histories in East Asia. Journal of Design History, 4 (27).

Margolin, V. (2013). Il design nella storia. AIS/Design. Storia e Ricerche 10, ID:1013.  (traduzione Dalla Mura, M.) Articolo originariamente pubblicato in Margolin, V. (2009). Design in History. Design Issues, 2 (25).

Margolin, V. (2015). World History of Design, vol. 1: Prehistoric Times to World War I, vol. 2: World War I to World War II, London: Bloomsbury Academic.



All submissions (both by invitation and in response to the call) are subject to blind peer-review. Deadlines are as follows:

  • June 29 July 17, 2020: abstract submission; contribution proposal must be based on the types accepted (max. 300 words / 2000 characters); it will include the title, 5 keywords and a short biography of the author/authors (max. 150 words each). The abstract may be in English (or English and Italian).
  • July 17 July 31, 2020: communication of interest by the editors and eventual acceptance.
  • September 21, 2020: full paper submission, adhering to the journal’s editorial standards and including abstract, keywords, author/s biography/ies, images, and captions (see below “Types of contributions and preparation of the materials”); the contributions will be subject to peer review.
  • October 26, 2020: notification to the authors of the peer review’s outcome (changes or additional work may be needed in view of publication).
  • November 16, 2020: final paper, sent by the authors of the final version of the contributions for publication.

All submissions should be submitted respecting the defined deadlines via email to and

For questions and relevant communication contact the editors at



All contributions submitted must be original texts. Any contributions beyond the scope of the journal, previously submitted to other journals and published in magazines, journals or books (in Italian or any other language), or which consist in copies or reproductions of texts published elsewhere – as for words and/or meaning – may be rejected without peer review.

Italian or english texts are accepted.

Final papers must be accompanied by:

  • an abstract (max 150 words or 1000 characters) in Italian and English (regardless of whether the text is in Italian or English);
  • a maximum of 5 keywords, in Italian and English;
  • a short biography (max 150 words or 1000 characters), in Italian and English, of the author (or authors).

The journal’s Director, Editors and Editorial Staff invite the authors to send proposals also in less conventional forms. Besides papers and essays of scientific level, the journal accepts proposals that adopt various research and output methods.

It is deemed important to reinforce a proper oral history approach, with either interviews with main or minor protagonists fso as to consider some of the topics of the call from a specific perspective; or by the critical dialogue with a protagonist of a specific design experience or theoretical position. These contributions can be returned either in written form or in a video (movie) format.

In addition, visual contributions will be accepted in the form of visual essays, that is, the narration of a story, its critical interpretation, or a particular point of view, in a visual/photographic form. A visual essay is essentially a photo sequence – a group of photographs following a specific order, well organised to construct a critical comment on a defined topic. The visual elements of an essay of this type must be prevalent in order to develop a topic or clarify the concepts that are being presented, rather than serving as an example, illustration or additional documentation to integrate a concise accompanying text. The images can either be produced by the author specifically for this purpose and/or be taken from collections, archives, or be the result of specific research.

Once the proposal has been accepted, the editors and editorial staff will agree with the author (or authors) on any adaptations and modifications, aiming for the most suitable output within the journal.

Contributions can be proposed for the following categories:

  • Essay: contributions presenting a theoretical, critical, and methodological stance that offer an in-depth analysis, argumentation or re-reading of broad historical themes and issues (max. 8000 words / 50000 characters, including notes, references, captions).
  • Research study: papers based on studies conducted on primary sources and offering original historical insight into specific topics or stories (max. 8000 words / 50000 characters, including notes, references, captions).
  • Micro-history: papers characterized by the peculiarity and novelty of the subject matter, with an analytical cut, focusing on specific original stories, unreleased to date, or referring to areas considered borderline for the discipline (max. 4000 words / 30000 characters, including notes, references, captions).
  • We also accept reviews, translations, re-readings, in-depth studies on research and conservation institutions (from 1 to 4 per issue), as long as they are consistent with the topics of the call (max. 2000 words / 15000 characters including notes, references and captions, longer. Longer re-readings or translations may be accepted providing they are of interest and consistent with the call).
  • As previously underlined, the journal will welcome any contributions that adopt diversified research and output methods, for example interviews, critical dialogues, historiographical papers (max. 4000 words / 30000 characters, including notes, references, and captions).
  • Visual essay: the editors will evaluate contributions consisting of at least 15-20 images accompanied by 1500 words of text plus captions if necessary (this quantity corresponds conventionally to a text of 4000 characters or 600 words approx.). It is possible to propose a visual essay as a single document containing images, text and captions following the editorial rules provided for the other types of contributions. Also, upon acceptance, the author (or authors) must provide the images in suitable quality/resolution in separate files.
  • Video (short documentary, video-interview) up to 30 minutes. Production, optimization and adaptation to online use are the responsibility of the authors.

Style and preparation guidelines are available from:



With regard to images to complement their contribution, authors can submit up to 10 images (copyright-free images or images for which the authors have obtained the right/permission of publication), accompanied by full captions (including credits).

[1]  See, in this respect, M. Dalla Mura’s contribution in AIS/Design Storia e Ricerche (2017).

Questo articolo è stato pubblicato in Call for papers, news, Open

Chiara Lecce

Chiara Lecce received her MA in Interior Design (2008) and her PhD in Interior Architecture & Exhibition Design (2013; with the thesis: “Living Interiors in the Digital Age: the Smart Home”) from the Politecnico di Milano. Since 2008 she has been engaged in teaching activities, in History of Design classes and Interior Design studio, at the Design School of the Politecnico di Milano, collaborating with professors Giampiero Bosoni and Ico Migliore. Since 2013 she has been managing editor of the scientific journal PAD (Pages on Arts and Design) and member of AIS/Design (Italian Association of Design Historians). She is the author of several articles featured in various design journals. She is currently research fellow and lecturer at the Design Department of the Politecnico di Milano, with a focus on exhibition design history and methodologies. In 2016 she was a tutor within the H2020 European project “Design for Enterprises”. Since 2009 she has been collaborating with the Franco Albini Foundation and with other Italian design archives, while continuing to work as a freelance interior designer.

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