Friday, 28 July 2017

Reversing the Polarity of the Gender Flow: on reactions to Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Ivan Phillips

There has been no shortage of opinions in the days since the announcement of Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th lead actor in the BBC’s science fiction drama Doctor Who. However people have responded to the imminent arrival of the first female Doctor, one thing is clear: it has got them excited, in the truest sense of the word, with few remaining entirely neutral on the subject.

Overall, the reaction has been enthusiastic, with parents posting tales of ecstatic daughters, the previously Who-phobic suddenly deciding that they are going to tune in, and the majority of fans welcoming either a sharply appropriate piece of casting (the best actor for the job), a long-overdue redressing of the balance (at last, a woman) or a necessarily radical shake-up of the format (a change is better than a rest). Nervousness among some, however, has escalated into profound and toxic fury among a minority. At the limits of negative opinion, there were ad hominem attacks, plangent howls of disbelief and a TARDIS-load of bad old-fashioned chauvinism. The angry bottom line for the savagely righteous and the frankly appalled seems to have been a belief, a gut instinct perhaps, that a 54-year-old institution had been destroyed in a moment of SJW madness. 

Not surprisingly, some of the most vitriolic resistance could be traced to those with a culturally conservative agenda, whether professional media goblin Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) – who jibed about the Doctor going on maternity leave - or US evangelicals like James Huckabee (@Hucksworld): ‘#DoctorWho died today. He didn’t die nobly as you might expect. He was murdered by Political Correctness.’ At times, the bitter aggression of those reacting against the news was terrifying in its barely-suppressed misogyny. ‘Not really a DW fan,’ raved Felix Ulrich (@BlackParagon), ‘but female DW can suck my D ffs – stupid ideology bullshit infesting everything’.

Given the ferocity of such outbursts, it seems glib to reach for the no-publicity-is-bad-publicity argument but the revelation of Peter Capaldi’s successor has certainly generated discussion in a way that hasn’t been seen since the announcement in September 2003 that Doctor Who was to be resurrected by Russell T. Davies after years in the museum of TV relics. Despite Capaldi’s often astonishing performances, ratings have fallen over the last three years, as have sales of the all-important merchandise, and a cynic might be tempted to see the casting of a female Doctor as a last-ditch, all-or-nothing, kill-or-cure publicity stunt on the part of the BBC. The temptation is to be resisted, though, because it reduces a complex cultural moment to a petulant tabloid spasm, doing a disservice to all involved, and to the richness of the Doctor Who mythology itself.

Accusations of ‘political correctness’, whether ‘gone mad’ or otherwise, are really too lazy to dignify with a response. There have been enough critiques of Doctor Who’s inherent conservatism over the years – from John Fiske in the early 1980s to Lorna Jowett more recently – to justify a suspicion that, even if it did simply respond to the dreaded feminist-liberal-lefty agenda, Whittaker’s casting would still be a very correct correction. As it happens, my own view is that Doctor Who has never been as reactionary or paternalistic as its reputation suggests – indeed, I feel that it embodies what Paul Ricoeur identifies as myth’s ability to be ‘the bearer of other, possible worlds’. Does the fact that, until Christmas Day 2017, the main character will always have been played by a white man, pose a problem to this reading of Doctor Who as a radical imaginative utopia? Well, yes, of course it does. It is worth remembering, though, as many have in the last week or so, that the first producer of Doctor Who in 1963 was a 27-year-old woman called Verity Lambert and that the first director was a gay Asian man, Waris Hussein, also in his twenties. It has been pointed out, too, that Sidney Newman, the Canadian TV pioneer who probably has a better claim than anyone to be the originator of Doctor Who, commented in 1986 that the lead character should one day be played by a woman. So much for any PC betrayal of the show’s heritage…
In an ideal world, the casting of Whittaker would not have caused any kind of fuss, whether appreciative or censorious. Or, at least, it would have caused no more of a fuss than any previous casting of the Doctor, since there is always a period of unease, resistance, questioning, excitement, nostalgia, hope and fear. In an ideal world, Whittaker’s gender would not be an issue in the context of her successful audition for what she has called ‘the ultimate character’. But this is not an ideal world, which is why a narrative like Doctor Who – on television, in novels, in comics, in games, in fan fiction, and in millions of playgrounds around the world – is needed, to be one of those fantastical bearers of other, possible worlds. The current distance from the ideal (and who am I to say that it is the definite article?) can be measured not only by the extremes of joy and despair that have greeted the casting of Whittaker, but also by the ugliness of some of the events that have occurred. The prurience and shabby moral hypocrisy of tabloid newspapers publishing decontextualised nude stills from the actor’s previous screen roles, for example. Then there was the sorry spectacle of the 5th and 6th Doctors, Peter Davison and Colin Baker, being pitched against each other as representatives of the anti- and pro-Whittaker camps respectively. Again, context was everything and, again, context was lost, leading to Davison – a generous and tireless ambassador for Doctor Who for over 30 years – being trolled off Twitter.

Davison’s concern that boy’s might have lost a role model was widely reported – ‘If I feel any doubts about it, it’s the loss of a role model for boys’ (note the ‘if’) – but his enthusiasm for Whittaker was less prominent: ‘I understand the argument that you’ve got to open it up, so she has my best wishes and full confidence, I’m sure she’ll do a wonderful job.’ Colin Baker was surely right to argue that a role model is not intrinsically tied to gender – how many boys growing up in the 1990s had Buffy as an icon? – but Davison’s mild qualms that a non-violent, cerebral hero-figure for non-violent, cerebral boys might be slipping from view was not, in its qualified context, entirely unreasonable. Even so, those non-violent, cerebral boys (and men) will now discover that a female Doctor can be just as fantastic at saving the universe as a male Doctor. A female Doctor a bit like their mum, or their sister, or their girlfriend, or their wife. Or, come to think of it, their teacher, their pilot, their doctor…

A recent story in the Daily Mail reports the ‘news’ of Whittaker shopping for groceries in ripped jeans: ‘She will be expected to smarten up when she emerges from the TARDIS.’ This is to bring her in line, presumably, with those sartorially elegant Doctors played by, say, Patrick Troughton and Christopher Eccleston (both shown above). Such ludicrous journalism gives an indication of why the casting of Whittaker is a risk for the series, although the risk has nothing to do with the quality or gender of the lead actor. Nor is to do with the sanctity of the canon (the canon, in this case, being a remarkably flexible thing) or the supposed volatility of fans (who, as Miles Booy recognises, have sometimes loved the series ‘in monstrous ways’). It is to do with the concurrent inertia and sensationalism of the surrounding culture, a temporal paradox if ever there was one. Outgoing show-runner Steven Moffat, speaking at San Diego Comic Con last week, was surely right to insist that the ‘backlash’ against a female Doctor was largely a media invention: ‘so many people want to pretend there’s a problem – there isn’t.’ Moffat, who has received a lot of criticism (some of it justified) for his depiction of female characters during his time in charge of the show, should be credited with establishing the groundwork for Whittaker’s Doctor in his casting of Michelle Gomez as Missy, a brilliantly witty female incarnation of the Master, and in his shaping of Capaldi’s final season. ‘Is the future going to be all girl?’ sneered John Simm’s Master in the recent finale, ‘The Doctor Falls’, to which our hero retorted: ‘We can only hope.’

As many have pointed out over the last fortnight, Doctor Who is a fiction, a story, with a modern mythic protagonist who – like Frankenstein’s Creature, Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple – will always be bigger than the actor who plays the part. (And, for the record, I see no reason why Holmes should not be played by a woman or Marple by a man, or either of them by a transgender or nonbinary actor: qualities of imaginative vision, writing and performance are the keys here, not predetermined gender categories.) Doctor Who is a fiction, a story, but it is a mistake to think of it as only a fiction, only a story: there is no only about it. Fictions are acts of make-believe but that does not mean that they are not real. They tell stories that have a reality – that reality of ‘poetic faith’ described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 200 years ago – that is fundamental to the experience of being human. Whether gritty realism or extraordinary fantasy, the stories we tell are always, ultimately, about ourselves. As Matt Smith’s Doctor said to a sleeping Amelia Pond in 2010’s ‘The Big Bang’: ‘We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’

This is why the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor – and the reactions to her casting – are so important. They extend the story, and they challenge it. If, in the process, as Jonn Elledge has suggested, ‘the right people’ become agitated, then that is a price worth paying and a gain to be made for the mythology. As Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell tweeted on the day of the casting announcement: ‘This is what Doctor Who has always been there to do.  This is what Doctor Who is *for*.’

Jodie Whittaker understands this aspect of the show when she comments that ‘Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change’. She, along with Chris Chibnall (and let it be said, Steven Moffat), has seen the future and it works; the past and the present too, as Capaldi’s festive swansong, ‘Twice Upon A Time’, promises to show. The Doctor Who story will continue to be a good one – in the view of this writer, one of the very best.

Ivan Phillips is Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire

Friday, 7 July 2017

TVAD Talks 2017/18 - New Series Launched!

The TVAD Talks for the coming year are now scheduled on Wednesdays as follows. All are welcome. Please add these dates to your diaries. Lunches are provided so please confirm your attendance with Antoine Proust, a couple of days beforehand, for catering numbers. We look forward to an exciting series of discussions!

Weds 11th October 2017 – Sahar Khajeh (University of Hertfordshire), ‘Kinetic Typography as a potential solution to the needs of bilingual typography (Arabic and Latin script)’

The aim of the discussion is to demonstrate how Kinetic typography could solve the problem of bilingualism where we need typography that works for two languages (Arabic and Latin scripts) specifically outside of printing environment. Examples include demonstration of bilingual logos on shop signage, presenting of tourist guidelines in airports and road signs or exhibiting the translation of a word where these two different cultures are mixed. Before we can discuss bilingual typography, we need to establish an agreed terminology for discussing similarities and differences between the two different written scripts. Due to lack of a proper Arabic Script’s nomenclature system, a system of classification and nomenclature for Arabic letterforms needs to be compatible with terminologies used to describe Latin script. During the current phase of my DDes, course I am examining the terminology in current use with the aim of being better able to compare the two scripts.

Weds 15th November 2017– Dr Thom Cuschieri (University of Hertfordshire), ‘The Gorey Groan – A Study in Gothic Voices’

In Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939), a twentieth-century French writer endeavours to reproduce Cervantes’ seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote – not by memorising the original, but by so fully inhabiting Cervantes’ life and persona that he is able to recreate the work anew, from scratch. Borges’ wry reflection on the nature of authorship and the appropriation of style and voice is the inspiration for The Gorey Groan, which seeks to explore similar concerns at the heart of illustration. 

Through a stratagem similar to that used by Borges’ eponymous, fictional Menard, this project seeks to gain insight into the work of two twentieth-century artists intimately connected with the gothic tradition: the American writer, illustrator, and designer Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) and the English writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968). The project involves a meticulous study of Gorey’s visual language, style and approach, and will include the production of a series of illustrations “by Gorey” (in the Borgesian sense) of Mervyn Peake’s gothic novel Titus Groan, as a means of engaging meaningfully with both artists’ oeuvres.

Gorey did not illustrate Titus Groan in his lifetime, and the focus here is not the replication of an existing body of work, but rather the means by which artists create their voice, through conscious borrowing and subconscious influences. There is, of course, a third voice in this project – my own – and, unlike Menard, I aim to scrutinise my role in the shaping of Gorey’s authentic “voice” as I seek to experience Peake’s text through a particular artistic vision.

Top: From 'The Object Lesson' (Edward Gorey)
Bottom: Sketch of Titus on horseback (Mervyn Peake)     


Weds 6th December 2017 - Peter Thomas (Middlesex University) and Prof Grace Lees-Maffei (University of Hertfordshire), ‘The Poster Session as Fusing Theory and Practice in (Art and) Design Education: Exhibiting an Occluded Genre’

This talk presents our research on the pedagogical benefits of poster sessions for teaching contextual studies in design education. The academic poster has been used most extensively in the sciences, but we argue that its particular pertinence in design education is undervalued to date. Design students have visual and design skills which can be applied to the production of a poster, but also their verbal experience of speech acts such as ‘crits’ (studio evaluations) and speaking to design outputs in a client pitch can be applied in the talk which takes place in poster sessions. Because the production of posters and the poster sessions where they are displayed and discussed draw on skills which students use in the studio, they have the capacity to bridge theory and practice when used in contextual studies for design students, in content, form and process.

Much of the secondary pedagogical literature on posters is fundamentally about ‘how-to’ design a poster; it is instructional. Our focus here is, rather, on the pedagogical affordances of the poster and poster session. While the how-to material focuses on the production of an outcome, our approach focuses on the poster as process, bridging theory and practice and affording a site for talk. The instructional approach we deem as being principally of benefit to the learners / makers of posters, and the learning benefits we expect to be of interest to teachers, as well as learners to some extent.

Posters are, in some senses, what Swales calls an 'occluded genre', in that they are often used to support the development of a higher stakes text, and in these cases are to an extent comparatively hidden. Our students have found the process of research and making a poster, talking about it and talking to other students about their posters in dedicated poster sessions to be very useful in developing ideas, and learning to express their ideas, about contextual studies topics as part of the preparation for an essay. We base our talk on primary pedagogical research we have conducted with undergraduate design students in two North London universities and with postgraduate students of design cultures in a Dutch university, and a review of the relevant secondary literature across a number of academic disciplines.

Weds 7th February 2018 – Dr Sorcha O’Brien (Kingston University), Electric Irish Homes: Rural Electrification, Domestic Products and Irish Women in the 1950s and 1960s’ (Title, Abstract TBC)

Dr O’Brien will discuss her Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project which runs from 2016 to 2019. It looks at the effects of rural electrification on rural Irish housewives and homes during the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on the importation, promotion, cultural context and significance of domestic electrical products and their meaning to a generation of rural housewives. Although electric products for cooking or cleaning were seen as modernising and liberating technologies in other countries, this project will use archival research, object analysis and oral history to consider to what extent these meanings held for Irish women, particularly against the background of Irish establishment attitudes to the role of married women as domestic housewives. As the rural electrification project of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) was rolled out across the State, the majority of domestic electrical products such as irons, fridges or vacuum cleaners were largely imported from Britain, Europe and the United States, and the project will look at the specifics of product ranges available in Ireland, and consider the implications of ‘modern’ influences from outside the state, particularly before the Scandinavian Report on Irish Design (1962) kick-started the native design industry in the late 1960s and 1970s. Outputs include a monograph, journal articles, and an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland Country Life, accompanied by a series of creative workshops. The project has also been supported by a Design History Society Research Travel Grant, 2015 and the Fundació Història del Disseny 2nd Alfaro Hofmann Collection Research Grant for the Study of Domestic Appliances: The Vacuum Cleaner, 2015. Read more about it on the project website:

Weds 14th March 2018 – Dr Claire Jamieson (University of Hertfordshire), ‘The deindustrialising city as site, symbol and material for design’

This talk will explore a milieu of 1980s British design across architecture and product design that can be characterised by a preoccupation with material salvage, DIY processes of making, an antipathy to mass-modernism, and a post-industrial urban aesthetic. Building on my monograph about the radical architectural group NATØ, this work expands the scope of my investigations into related design disciplines in order to more fully interrogate a period preoccupation that I argue emerged from the distinct urban condition of deindustrialising London. Through an examination of the work of designers including Ron Arad, Tom Dixon and his Creative Salvage group, Danny Lane, Daniel Weil, as well as Nigel Coates and NATØ, and some more tentative links to fashion and graphic design, I will identify a postmodern attitude to design as bricolage and a form of street vernacular.

The decline of London’s urban fabric during the 1970s and 1980s was dramatic and traumatic ­– with vast swathes of the city lying derelict as the it prepared to be reshaped in a new post-industrial era. I will show how the unfamiliar material conditions and destabilising spatial relationships produced by deindustrialisation spurred a new form of creative imagination. London’s ruinous landscape suggested, and indeed provided, the physical materials for this new language, but also evoked an attitude that was translated into ad-hoc, primitive objects that resisted mainstream design culture. Furthermore, empty and derelict buildings provided the space for these works, which were often constructed using industrial techniques, to be made. For the Creative Salvage group, music culture formed an important part of this making process – with huge parties held in abandoned buildings illuminated by the welding iron and the angle grinder. My work brings research on the nature of post-industrial urban landscapes from urban studies into the realm of design history in order to better understand the influence of urban decline on a generation of designers.

With a line of influence that can clearly be traced back to the DIY practices of punk, the improvised and often purposefully ‘anti-design’ nature of these works blurs the boundary between professional and amateur. NATØ described an ‘apprentice’ character – an impoverished maker who could scavenge, construct, sell, swap, repair and fix their environment. Further, untrained designer-makers such as Tom Dixon, who produced hand-wrought one-off objects, put forward a model of practice that falls between art, design, and craft. My talk will expose these complex relations which problematize the role of the professional architect or designer who works in this mode.

‘One Off’, Ron Arad’s studio/shop, (1982)
‘Albionize Your Living Room’ from NATØ, (1984)

For more information, contact Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

TVAD Talks 2016-17 Available to Watch on YouTube

TVAD Talks are published on the University of Hertfordshire's YouTube Channel, in a Creative Arts Research playlist and on the TVAD website. If you missed them or if you want to enjoy them all over again, here are the TVAD Talks from the 2016-17 series:

We started the year with TVAD's Visiting Researcher, Professor Rebecca Houze (Northern Illinois University), who spoke to the title ‘Writing Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War. In this talk, Prof Houze introduced her research monograph (Ashgate) which offered a new reading of fin-de-siècle culture in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by looking at the unusual and widespread preoccupation with embroidery, fabrics, clothing, and fashion - both literally and metaphorically. Houze resurrected lesser known critics, practitioners, and curators from obscurity, while also discussing the textile interests of notable figures, Gottfried Semper and Alois Riegl. Spanning the 50-year life of the Dual Monarchy, this TVAD Talk uncovered new territory in the history of art history, insisting on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadening the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze showed us a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and overlooked sources-from fashion magazines to World's Fair maps, from exhibition catalogues to museum lectures, from feminist journals to ethnographic collections. Restoring women to their place at the intersection of intellectual and artistic debates of the time, Houze's monograph weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture.

Our TVAD Talk in November 2016 was given by Rebecca Bell (Royal College of Art) on the subject ‘Folk Fever and the Bureaucratic Machine: Craft and Design in early 1960s' Czechoslovakia'. The use of humour and absurdity as a Czech literary device is also seen in applied art and design in Czechoslovakia, such as the popular inter and post-war glass figurines of Jaroslav Brychta. This TVAD Talk focuses on the ways in which Czech cultural tropes, particularly those relating to folk and craft, are explored amongst the ‘network of bureaucratic machines’ in the State design system during the 1960s. They are used to activate new relationships to traditional forms and question ‘this world of absurd omnipotence’. In particular, disillusion, humour and material juxtapositions will be explored within State design projects, but also that seminal 1960s’ Czech form, New Wave Cinema.Karel Vachek’s 1963 film Moravská Hellas (Moravian Hellas), is a part-reportage, part-fiction parody of State approaches to folk festivals, crafts and music in the early 1960s. From a material history perspective, it provides insight into feelings around the State appropriation of folk and craft techniques. As character Dr Pavelčík, Director of the Museum in Uherský Blod, states towards to the end of the film, ‘Ethnography is at its end, everything has perished...It seems to me like a slowly dying cow’. Local storyteller Uncle Lebanek adds that it is ‘some kind of fever’. Meanwhile, designers working for ÚLUV, the Centre of Folk Art Production, are trying to integrate craft and folk methods and themes to negotiate ways of establishing design practices that are both theoretically interesting and commercially viable. Through interior design projects, fashion and design magazines, Bell examines how these aims were realised in the shifting intellectual climate of early 1960s’ Czechoslovakia.

In January 2017, Dr Barbara Brownie (University of Hertfordshire) introduced research in progress for her forthcoming book Spacewear: Weightlessness and the Final Frontier of Fashion. In the new era of commercial space travel, we must rethink our approach to designing clothes. Space, and the artificial environments that aim to replicate it, provide challenges for spacesuit engineers, and that may also increasingly concern fashion designers. These concerns are currently reflected most often at the intersection of reality and fiction, as science fiction speculates about the requirements of future space travel. In recent years, Earth-bound fashion designs have also begun to take a speculative approach to fashion design, which imagines the clothing requirements of future space tourists.

Dr Brownie's TVAD Talk specifically addresses environments with reduced gravity, in which the body experiences weightlessness. Clothes must be reconsidered for the reduced environments of spacewalks, space stations and zero-gravity flights within Earth's atmosphere. Future fashion designers will be required to reassess many of the dressmaking and design processes that are fundamental to fashion on Earth's surface. The weightless garment contains a body, but is not supported by it. Garments contain the body differently in different gravitational conditions, leading to “a newly found balance between the muscles and the tension of fabrics” (Dominino  2003, p. 278). Drape, which is a staple of garment design, is defined as a product of gravity. Designers must consider not only changes to the behaviour of fabric, but also changes in body structure. As the body adapts to reduced gravity, it adopts a neutral posture, and weight is redistributed as the upper body swells and the spine lengthens. In the long-duration space travel that is proposed for missions to Mars, these distortions will be more extreme. Garment silhouettes must necessarily compensate for the redistribution of weight around the body. Barbara's book, Spacewear: Weightlessness and the final frontier of fashion examines the work of engineers, fashion designers, costume designers, photographers, authors and filmmakers.

The 2016-17 Series continued in February with a presentation by Femke de Vries (HKU University of the Arts Utrecht) titled ‘DICTIONARY DRESSINGS: Clothing definitions decoded and translated towards alternative fashion perspectives’. Dictionary definitions are generally experienced as factual and rational and in the case of clothing show no connection to the mythical character of fashion. They describe the characteristics of the items, the modes of use and/or the relation to the body but fashion or style is not mentioned. For example: “Handschoen: bekleding van de hand” (Literally translated to English as Glove: covering of the hand). It becomes clear that a hand can be covered by putting it in a pocket, by bandaging it or by sitting on it, turning a pair of trousers into a glove for they cover the hand and therefore suffice to the definition.In this on-going project the nature of the dictionary definition as a ‘zero condition’ of a piece of clothing is used not to find a general truth of a piece of clothing, but to re-read clothes and explore an alternative fashion vocabulary. This vocabulary will take the shape of an image archive, theoretical and design-led approaches by experts and students brought together in a publication, website, workshops and catalogues of these workshops. TVAD Visiting Research Prof Rebecca Houze contributed as a respondent to de Vries' TVAD Talk. You can read more about Femke's work at her website and her TVAD Talk is available to view on  the University of Hertfordshire's YouTube Channel, in the Creative Arts Research playlist

In March, TVAD Chair Prof Grace Lees-Maffei (University of Hertfordshire) presented some writing in progress on the topic of ‘The Written Object’. Lees-Maffei began by recognising that w
ords are constantly present throughout the design lifecycle. They accompany the design process, in formal client briefs, in informal exchanges between members of design teams, in CADCAM software and specifications. Words are used to market and advertise designed objects, images, and services. We use words to describe what we do within, and how we feel about, the designed environments in which we all exist. These verbal processes have been recognised to some extent by design historians in the field’s recent mediation turn. Since the Production-Consumption-Mediation paradigm was posited in 2009, new research has emphasised the importance of words in understanding design. Design journalism, for example, has been critically important in shaping the ways in which we conceive of, and consume, design. And web 2.0, for instance, has complicated the notions of authority upon which design journalism and design criticism have existed. Bloggers and vloggers are now recognised as prime influencers, and their influence extends more and more into mainstream media. We can identify some new directions for the study of the written object, or more inclusively, words and design. The relationship between design and literature has so far remained largely untouched by design historians. Literary sources do not rely for their status, influence and authority upon the veracity with which they describe design, but they have a great deal to tell us about design, and design of the past. By the same token, we might examine the literary and aesthetic merit of design criticism and design journalism. Lees-maffei closes with a rhetorical question: Is it possible to communicate about design in a non-verbal way?

The final TVAD Talk of the 2016-7 series was given by Dr Nicolas P. Maffei (Norwich University of the Arts) in which the focus was ‘The Responsive Brand: Uniformity and Flexibility in Logo Design’. From the uniformity of modernism to the embrace of difference, this TVAD talk explored the historical shift from static to dynamic logos, from universal international brand identities to more flexible and responsive corporate personalities. This transformation occurred over a period extending from the nineteenth century to the present, and includes the roots of branding, the ideals of modernism, the emergence of the critical consumer, the development of the responsive corporation, and the co-creation of brands in online landscapes. From Peter Behrens’ designs for the German Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), in 1907, considered the first corporate identity, to Paul Rand’s flexible and humanizing identity developed for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) after WWII, Maffei reviews the rise of the unchanging logo and, in turn, the multivalent brand-mark. In addition, the design responses of corporations to the vocal and ethically informed consumer are surveyed via the anti-branding movement, which has targeted Starbucks and McDonalds among other corporations. Nike is examined through local reinterpretations of the global brand. Gap’s failed logo of 2010 shows the power of the online consumer and the need for companies to listen and respond. Finally, brand reactions to the responsive consumer – characterized by chameleon-like logo transformation and an emphasis on user interaction and co-production of meaning, are investigated through the designs for telecommunications company Ollo (Bibliothèque, 2012), the identity for the Tate museums (Wolff Olins, 1999), and Experimental Jetset’s Responsive ‘W’ for The Whitney Museum (2011). Watch Nic's TVAD Talk here:

For more information, Contact Prof Grace Lees-Maffei, TVAD Research Group Leader and TVAD Talks Convenor,