Design History

We receieved a talk from Nicholas Oddy this week, who informed us that he teaches students from design courses about the history of design, except our course. 

I understand that we don’t have time to receive lectures on the subject, but I didn’t realise just how influential and important it could be to be aware of design history as a product design engineer. I like to be aware of current and new developments, but I have a limited knowledge of designs from say 100 years ago or more, and there were so many incredible things happening at the time.

Nicholas spoke about Volkswagen Beetles and their roots in fascism, which I had not previously known about. He raised interesting questions about whether that makes the design itself representive of fascist ideology or if its roots have no bearing on the car itself. There are many definitively unanswerable questions here, and a person’s stance on the matter could depend heavily on both their ideology and possibly their family history.

The above was just an example of one of the designs discussed, and the presentation really brought home to me that every design, no matter how old, can be massively influential and can have strong political and ethical repercussions. 

What I really got from this was that I could have a greater awareness of design history, and even it’s not being taught as part of my degree I would like to take it upon myself to be better informed. I feel that knowing about design history can inform modern design work to prevent the same mistakes from being replicated decades or centuries later.


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