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.
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.
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 words 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, firstname.lastname@example.org