Monday, 25 November 2013

Mini-symposium 'Design & Fashion Historiographies in the Netherlands'

Wednesday, 11 December, 17.00 – 19.00 hrs at the VU University Amsterdam, room HG14a-33 (in the main building), De Boelelaan 1105, 1081HV Amsterdam

The mini-symposium is organised by the MA Design Cultures VU University and the Design and Fashion Platform of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis (NICA). Entrance is free, but seats are limited! Please RSVP: 
Recently, design and fashion are becoming increasingly accepted subjects of study in Dutch universities. This academic institutionalization raises questions as to the disciplines' pasts. We can identify two parallel but unconnected historiographies, i.e. the first elaborating on product and graphic design simultaneously and the second on fashion design. How has design and fashion been researched in the Netherlands? According to which theoretical and methodological traditions and in which institutional settings? Why did they develop independently of each other and why have not they yet merged? In which ways do Dutch historiographies of design and fashion differ from canonical (British) design historiography?

These topics will be explored at the mini-symposium "Design and Fashion Historiographies in the Netherlands." Building on the lectures on Dutch design historiography organized by the Design History Society Netherlands in 2012, two keynote speakers will delve into design and fashion historiographies in the Netherlands, which will be further elaborated during a round table discussion with experts representing different facets of the field. The aim of this meeting is to explore, together with the participants, the breadth of the fields as well as the interest in further investigating their pasts today.

Keynote speakers
- Prof dr Anneke Smelik (Radboud University Nijmegen)
- Dr Frederike Huygen (independent scholar)

Round table participants
- Dr Ellinoor Bergvelt (University of Amsterdam)
- Dr Christine Delhaye (University of Amsterdam)
- Dr Javier Gimeno-Martínez (VU University Amsterdam)
- Dr Grace Lees-Maffei (VU University Amsterdam, Hertfordshire University)
- Drs Joana Ozorio de Almeida Meroz (VU University Amsterdam)

- Yara Cavalcanti Araujo (VU University Amsterdam)


- Prof Anneke Smelik writes about film, fashion and media and has published over a dozen books and over a hundred articles. She is project leader of two NWO-programmes on fashion: 'Dutch Fashion in a Globalized World', and 'Crafting Wearables'.  She researches how the image of the body changes in visual culture and in fashion, through changed norms about beauty and perfection, or through an increasing approximation between humans and machine, as e.g. in fashionable  technology, science fiction films or digital photography. She develops new theoretical approaches to fashion studies from a materialist and a deleuzean perspective. She is at present the coordinator of a new master programme on Creative Industries at the Radboud University Nijmegen.

- Dr Frederike Huygen studied art history in Leiden and Amsterdam with a specialisation in design. In the early 1980s she became curator at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Rotterdam where she built a collection on design and organized exhibitions. She was also editor of the magazine Items and published many articles and books. Since 1996 Huygen works as freelance researcher and writer. In 2013 she received her doctoral degree on a dissertation about the graphic designer Jurriaan Schrofer.

-Dr Ellinoor Bergvelt is a specialist on collections, museums and (interior) design. See: ‘Van art decowerkgroep (1971-72) naar batikproject (2012), theorie en praktijk van wetenschappelijk onderzoek’ (since 1 February 2013). She was (co-) editor of Van neorenaissance tot postmodernisme (1996); Industrie en vormgeving in Nederland 1850-1950/Industry and Design in the Netherlands (1985-1986); 80 jaar wonen in het Stedelijk (1981); Goed Wonen. Een Nederlandse wooncultuur 1946-1968 (1979); Amsterdamse School. Nederlandse architectuur 1910-1930 (1975). Recently she has been working on the global influence of batik since the 19th century (Batik as an example of cultural crossovers – Dutch East-Indies / Indonesia – the Netherlands – West-Africa – Yinka Shonibare); an article on that subject will be published in an Encyclopedia of Asian Design by Bloomsbury (Berg) in 2015.

- Dr Christine Delhaye is Lecturer in Cultural Theory and Policy in the Cultural Studies programme, Department of Arts, Religion and Culture at the University of Amsterdam, where she is program chair of the MA Cultural Studies. She teaches courses on cultural theory and cultural policy. Since last year she also teaches the Fashion theory course. Her fields of research are situated at the intersection of cultural globalization, urban cultures and fashion. Last year she published, together with Ellinoor Bergvelt the article  'Fashion exhibitions in the Netherlands: between visual spectacles and community outreach’ in: Fashion Theory: The journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 2012. As from this academic year onwards, she is also co-ordinator of the research group Fashion/representations in global context in the Faculty of Humanities.  

- Dr Javier Gimeno-Martínez is Assistant Professor at the VU University Amsterdam. His research interests encompass design and fashion as related with consumption, gender and national identity. Since the end of his PhD, he has been conducting research on the shifting cultural status of industrial design and craft from the 1950s up to today with Belgium as case study. Industrial design, as cultural activity, was considered during the 1960s as an edge phenomenon of the crafts industry. Conversely, craft was often related to the field of sculpture. However, design has gradually taken over the leading role and by the 1990s craft activity was moved to the background. Designers or design critics are not the only active agents that shape the design landscape, but also the institutions for design promotion disseminated their own concepts on applied arts and design. Museums, award schemes and state-funded institutions are studied as actors that shape and reshape the perception of design and craft. This research was funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders from 2007 to 2010.

- Dr Grace Lees-Maffei is Visiting Professor of Design History and Theory in the MA Design Cultures, where she teaches the course 'Design, History and Culture'. She is also Reader in Design History at the University of Hertfordshire, coordinator of the Theorising Visual Art and Design (TVAD) Research Group in its work on relationships between text, narrative and image and Managing Editor of the Journal of Design History. Grace’s research interests centre upon the mediation of design, through channels including domestic advice literature, corporate literature, advertising and magazines. Dr Lees-Maffei is author of Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the US since 1945 (Routledge, 2013), editor of Writing Design: Words and Objects (Berg, 2011) and Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things (Bloomsbury, 2014) and co-editor of Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design (Bloomsbury, 2013) and The Design History Reader (Berg, 2010).

- Drs Joana Ozorio de Almeida Meroz is a PhD candidate and lecturer at the Design Cultures department of the VU University Amsterdam. Her research project, "A History of the Construction of the Idea of 'Dutch Design' (1970-2012)," advances from the premise that Dutch Design is the product of a discursive construction rather than the natural result of a 'typically Dutch' identity or culture. Accordingly, the research traces the development of ideas about Dutch Design as well as the actors involved in the production and institutionalisation of those ideas, particularly in relation to Dutch international cultural policy. This research is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) programme Mosaic. She also supervises MA theses and co-teaches "The Arts and Crafts of Dutch Design," and the Design module of the BA "Media, Kunst, Design en Architectuur."

- The Design and Fashion Platform of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis (NICA)
In contemporary culture design and fashion continue to grow in importance and popularity. However, design and fashion have long been neglected by the Arts and Humanities as a field of academic study. The Design and Fashion Cultures Platform aims to encourage academic interest and research in design and fashion as they are embedded in their cultural and material contexts. The focus will be on the study of product design, graphic design, and fashion, taking into account the complex, globalised, chain of production, sale, and consumption. The Platform also wishes to explore the wider cultural field in which design and fashion operate and the ways in which they become meaningful and even constitutive of consumer’s identities. The platform combines theoretical, historical and comparative approaches to design and fashion, and welcomes all researchers and students interested in the field. Organizers: Anneke Smelik (Radboud University Nijmegen), Javier Gimeno-Martínez (VU University Amsterdam) and Joana Ozorio de Almeida Meroz (VU University Amsterdam).

- The Master Design Cultures, VU University Amsterdam
Since 1 September 2010, the Faculty of Arts of VU University Amsterdam, offers the first fully accredited, internationally oriented Master’s programme Design Cultures. The MA programme Design Cultures is all about the study of product design, graphic design and fashion in a broad diverse cultural context. The focus is on both the designer as ‘author’ and the complex chain of production, sale, consumption and criticism in which design operates and derives its many different meanings. Design Cultures restores design as the core object of academic interest without detracting from the cultural and material context in which it operates. The programme combines a generalist, comparative approach to design with a clear focus on history and theory.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Poster Sessions – A Design Historian Reflects

Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire and Visiting Professor of Design History and Theory, VU University, Amsterdam. 

I.                    Posters as a Format for Academic Research: The Benefits

Poster sessions are commonplace of science conferences and are becoming more popular in scholarly meetings in the humanities. Poster sessions have several advantages over giving a paper at a conference:
LONGEVITY: The poster display is usually available for the length of a conference meeting, i.e. several days, rather than being time-limited like a paper, and potentially clashing with a paper everyone wants to hear, etc. The poster can tour more than one conference and after the conference, the poster can be archived physically or digitally as a jpeg, TIFF or pdf.
VISIBILITY: The poster display is often in a prominent place such as a meeting or refreshments area where people linger, or a much-used concourse through which delegates regularly pass and therefore the posters have the opportunity to attract more attention than the same content would when presented as a paper.
ACCESSIBILITY: The successful poster will make the research to be presented easily accessible using text and image in a digestible form. It therefore has the potential to be more accessible to a larger group of people, and furthermore has the potential to be more memorable.
AUDIENCE: For all of the reasons above—longevity,  visibility and accessibility—a poster has the potential to reach a much larger audience than does a paper, in which the audience size is limited by the appeal of the topic and the speaker, the size of the room and the competing events.  

II.                  Posters as a Format for Academic Research: Good Practice

There is a body of advice available online to assist in the production of successful academic posters, including:

Radel, Jeff ‘Designing Effective Posters ©’

Welch, Andrea A. & Charles A. Waehler.  1996.  "Preferences about Poster Presentations."  Teaching of Psychology, vol. 23, no. 1 (February), pp. 42-44.

White, David R. & John A. Garcia's article, "Poster Sessions and the APSA Convention:  Developments and Guidelines" and Garcia's website:

These sources stress the importance of design principles such as using a range of colours (up to three) to demarcate parts of the poster according to varying content, and using good contrast between the poster background and photographic or other illustrations. Advice includes using numbers to sequence the parts of the poster so that it should be legible without guidance from the presenter. Some advice on preparing posters assumes a poster will be accompanied with a printed supporting essay, and that the presenter will be on hand throughout the scheduled poster session to answer questions and receive feedback. (On the talk surrounding poster sessions, see Celia Shalom, ‘Established and evolving spoken research process genres: plenary lecture and poster session discussions at academic conferences,’ English for Specific Purposes 12, no, 1 (1993): 37-50). However, it is important for the poster to also be freestanding.

III.                Posters in Design Research and Design History
When designers and design historians produce posters for academic sessions, isn’t the necessity for good design is even more pronounced? In design contexts, design historians and other commentators on design are likely to find their posters judged alongside presenters who have trained, and practice, as designers, including graphic designers. In design contexts, the poster will be judged not only on:
·        academic quality: of the research, of the method, of the findings, originality and contribution to knowledge, blue sky/incremental etc..
o   At the most basic level, is the poster informative?
·        clarity: of the poster design, of the research represented, of the findings and contribution.
o   Is the poster visually arresting (attention-grabbing) and clear?
o   Is the relationship between image and text appropriate or imbalanced?
o   Does the poster have an evident structure?
o   Does the poster read from right to left, left to right, top to bottom, bottom to top?
But also, perhaps even equally, on:
·        aesthetics: is the poster well-designed, tasteful, using the right typeface(s) and fonts, positive and negative space, suitable images etc.
o   Are the images the primary focal material or merely illustrative?
o   Is there a relationship between the form and content of the poster?
o   What would improve the poster, from a designer’s point of view?

IV.                Case Study: Design, History and Culture, MA Design Cultures, VU University
I asked my students on the MA Design Cultures at VU University, Amsterdam, Netherlands, to design a poster as follows:
This exercise asks you to select a design historical topic of relevance to your own design history practice and communicate it to your peers (assumed to have either no prior knowledge, or a level of knowledge specified by you, which we can discuss) in the form of an A2 poster using text and image. You will need to:
(a) select your topic based on your enthusiasms and expertise and/or gaps or omissions in the design history literature or approaches to which you can provide a corrective and
(b) research your topic thoroughly before you
(c) consider how your ideas can be expressed visually and in writing and
(d) design and produce a poster communicating your knowledge to others.
It will be helpful if your topic is approach through a key question, or point of debate, or is revisionist in some way, rather than simply being a reiteration of basic facts; i.e. try to be analytical.
Come prepared to display your poster on the wall. As a group we will review the posters and comment on them in a peer critique situation.

I was delighted with the results, both in terms of process (including the related teaching session ) and product (the posters themselves). We had a long and rich critique session in which the students gave one another’s work their full attention, making notes as did I. Once the posters had been thoroughly inspected we had a lively and frank round table discussion which brought out the same examples of good practice emphasized in the guidance available online. (On the talk surrounding design critiques see Oak, Arlene, ‘It's a Nice Idea, but it's not actually Real: Assessing the Objects and Activities of Design,’ Journal of Art & Design Education, 19 (2000): 86–95. doi: 10.1111/1468-5949.00205; also Arlene Oak, ‘What can talk tell us about design?: Analyzing conversation to understand practice,’ Design Studies 32, no. 3 (May, 2011): 211-234.)

For example, we understood from experience the need for graduated use of fonts (with a maximum of three) in order to capture attention from a distance and provide more detail on closer examination, and the judicious use of bold and upper case type; the need for a clear structure and signposting a route around the information, which could involve text layout and the use of colour coding in the text, plus the use of ample negative space. We learned that the clear linking of text and image was key and that this could be aided by careful and appropriate use of captions, for example.

The most important guideline, we found, was the need to limit text, and we commended a poster which achieved clarity by breaking up the text into very easily legible paragraphs, and while we appreciated the amount of information supplied in other posters, we found the poster format was not the best way to communicate that amount of text.

Elena Becker’s poster on the Shakers
In recognising the need for the form to reflect the content somehow, we really liked a poster dealing with space and science fiction design which used an apt style to amplify the topic, albeit with more text than was ideal (we discussed the benefits of redrafting this poster using fewer words). Also on the relationship between form and content, we praised a poster in which post-it notes were used in the manner of a designer’s brainstorming session. 

Vivian Schilder's poster on mass understanding of fashion
This poster, and one on Dior’s New Look, both led me to suggest that the relationship between form and content might include the shape of the poster itself. Perhaps we might deviate from the rectangular norm and use a shape which reflected the topic in hand, such as a t-shirt shape hanging on a line for a poster about clothing, or a New Look silhouette, for a poster about fashion design.

Zoe Rosielle's poster on The New Look
A poster about bamboo furniture derived from the bamboo ladder form leant itself to an arrangement in the shape of a ladder.

Trinh Ha-Giang, Poster on the Bamboo Ladder
And what about a surfboard shape for Ilja Meijer's poster on surfing design? This surf poster was the only handmade poster submitted from a group of 25 students, which gave it special appeal, the aura of the original in a context of mechanical—or digital—reproduction (with apologies to Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, 1936, The costs of digital reproduction were surprisingly high. Due to delays with printing, one ‘poster’ was presented on a laptop initially and then later as a poster. The students seemed to enjoy accessing the poster in this way so a virtue was made out of a crisis.

Sal Montes on C20th war propaganda
I was informed in this suggestion about the shape of the posters by my recent work on iconic design (Grace Lees-Maffei, ed., Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things, London: Bloomsbury, 2014), in which silhouettes had emerged in my looking and thinking as a key signifier of iconicity.
Cover design for Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things, ed. Grace Lees-Maffei, Bloomsbury 2014.
In terms of content, we thought the clarity of the guiding question or issue to be debated in the poster was of paramount importance. We found the posters in which the question posed was not clearly answered to be less satisfactory than those which kept to the point more obviously. However, a strongly polemical poster which adopted a position which some of us found rather extreme (about the public misunderstanding of fashion design, see figure above) was criticised for not being more measured, qualified and balanced. The group also noted the absence of secondary references on several of the posters, and preferred those which did give an indication of the sources used and sources for further research.This was done most effectively in a demarcated area for footnotes, such as a footer pane.

All in all this was a worthwhile assignment, part of a series of formative assignments for the Design, History, Culture course in the MA Design Cultures. I have used poster sessions repeatedly with my undergraduate students in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire, and collectively this practice is making me think about sharing best practice in poster design and the pedagogy of the practice too.