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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > From Solving Problems to Selling Product
 
INTRODUCTION
 
The 'What Industrial Design Means' display from the Britain Can Make It exhibition, 1946. Designed by Misha Black. DCA2116 The 'What Industrial Design Means' display from the Britain Can Make It exhibition, 1946. Designed by Misha Black.

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This teaching and learning module has two primary aims. It gives an historical account of design in Britain since the end of the Second World War (1945), utilising many previously unpublished images of objects from the period. It also uses this account as a basis for introducing you to aspects of cultural and social theory that have become central to the work of the design profession.

As well as the text and images on the individual web pages, the site offers downloadable extracts from writers and critics of the periods being discussed, and a section containing projects and activities. When used as a whole, this unit aims to increase your historical knowledge and develop your analytical skills, allowing you to make connections between theoretical insight and practice-based outcomes. These aptitudes are a crucial component of design practice. You will also find ‘mini-assignments’ at the end of each section. In order to engage fully with the information delivered, you are encouraged to consider these questions and use them as a stimulus to carry out further research.
 
From Solving Problems to Selling Product
 
Display explaining the role of the Industrial Designer in the design and manufacturing process. Shown at Britain Can Make It Exhibition, 1946 DCA1057 Display explaining the role of the Industrial Designer in the design and manufacturing process. Shown at Britain Can Make It Exhibition, 1946

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During the first half of the twentieth century, the newly emerging profession of design was characterised by a spirit of reform. A number of individual designers, writers, and self-styled action groups, set out to establish the role of design in industrialised society, and to formalise a moral and ethical standpoint upon which the design profession could base its methods. Their approaches had in common a crusading, almost theological, manner. Design practice was often portrayed as being in a state of crisis – a crisis brought about by the unwillingness of manufacturers to utilise the skills of professional designers, combined – in the view of design reformers – with the ‘philistinism’ of the buying public. In consequence, the role of the designer was cast as the problem solver – whether those problems were of public taste, or of function and utility.
 
Jasper Morrison featured in an article in Design magazine, June 1992. CRD01012 Jasper Morrison featured in an article in Design magazine, June 1992.

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However, by the 1980s, this image of the designer was subject to significant changes. Design became a marketing tool. The word design was appended to any number of everyday items to give added allure and value, and individual designers became powerful totems for whole lifestyles. The names of designers vastly increased the value of the objects they chose to promote and designers became more skilled in understanding consumption – what motivated people to buy things, and how they used objects to create and reinforce personal identity. Rather than working individually, they were more likely to be part of a team working with market researchers and social scientists.

Effectively there had been a shift in emphasis from understanding and mastering production to understanding and mastering consumption. The problem for design was no longer how to produce the goods, but how to produce the consumers. This change in the way that we understand the design process is similar to the changes in methods adopted by cultural theorists in their own efforts to understand culture and society, and design theory increasingly draws upon these disciplines to reach a better understanding of its subject matter.
 
Context, Profession, Theory

In this unit we build theoretical models that broadly describe the two contrasting views of design outlined above. We start by describing the social and cultural characteristics of these periods, and then go on to explore the role of the design profession at these times. Finally we track the changes that took place in writing about design – the views and opinions expressed within the period about how design should be practised, how it should be understood, and its relation with the rest of the cultural world. Significant texts drawn from each period will introduce you to these ideas, and give you a primary source from which to work. Bibliographies contained in each section can be used to guide further reading.

You may track information chronologically within one of the three subject threads – Context, Profession and Theory – or you may move between threads to draw parallels within the same historical period.

All module sections contain specific illustrations taken from an archive of object images, or you may browse the images independently from the text within the Image Archive section. The CRD Image Archive includes some extra images not found in the main body of the module, which provide further reference material. These include copies of relevant articles from Design magazine and copies of other documents and artefacts from the period. In addition there is a large selection of previously unpublished images of utility furniture.

Finally, by putting some of the ideas covered into practice, downloadable project briefs will help you to embed the knowledge you have gained. These briefs are designed to complement Level 2 programmes of study, and are suitable for incorporation into existing BA design programmes.
 
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