Yelavich: On design history

Dear Vanni and colleagues,

I am delighted to be included in this discussion re: history. And I agree with Vanni when he writes: “Presently I think that the problem is the domination of an absolutized technical thinking, both under the engeneering and the managerial points of view. I think it’s a general problem in present thinking.”

Also when he identifies strategic design as a factor compounding the problem of what histories to teach. I recently interviewed a student who is applying to Parsons MA in Design Studies program that I direct. And after explaining how we view design as a series of capacities, active in shaping and projecting futures, she asked: “Then why do I need to know about Art Nouveau or the Bauhaus or other aspects of design history?” I was momentarily stunned. When I recovered I said that these are the languages from which contemporary practice has evolved, in concert of course with philosophy, history, sociology etc. Still I find myself returning to her question frequently. Does one have to know design history to understand the work of today’s socially engaged practices (to cite just one example)?

I think the answer remains yes. But would appreciate hearing this debated at your next conference. In the meantime, and in closing, I’ve excerpted a passage (pasted in below) from my colleague Clive Dilnot’s syllabus for Discourses in Design as it combines both historiography and history in a way is very interesting. I also think Clive should be involved in these conversations, too, so I’ve cc’ed him on this email and hope that’s ok with him and with you.

Looking forward to future discussion, I send
best regards,

Excerpt from Discourses in Design Studies syllabus:

“In the context of this seminar, whose aim is to introduce students to the range and depth of design studies we will concentrate therefore on comparatively recent studies, contrasting these however with earlier reflections on design seen through the literature on craft, the decorative arts, architecture and drawing. The overall goal of the class is to be to give students sufficient context to the fields that now make up “design studies” such that they can begin to position themselves within the professional arena of design research and design thinking.”