AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award: Designing a Profession: The Structure, Organisation and Identity of the Design Profession in Britain, 1930-2010.
Since the establishment of the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA) in 1930, the professional identity of the designer has been a subject of critical debate. This thesis uncovers the histories of this debate, paying particular attention to the structures, organisations and social practices that have governed, represented and given meaning to the identity of the designer in Britain, 1930-2010. Principally informed by close scrutiny of the archive of the Chartered Society of Designers, (CSD), the thesis argues that the design profession is constructed through reflexive social practices, in which the designer has been, and remains, an active agent. It contends that the structure, organisation and identity of the design profession is not fixed or immutable, but fluid, responsive and contingent upon shifting dynamics, internal and external to the profession.Quantitative and qualitative research methods have been employed to produce a thesis structured in two parts. This comprises a written thesis and a digital mapping tool. While the thesis opens up discursive questions about the structures, cultures and identities that have circulated within and beyond the design profession, the maps provide a different view of the shape, structure and identity of the profession over time. These two views of the profession exist in parallel, but also touch at key points.The written thesis is formed of four chapters. The first two chapters examine the structural methods by which the design profession was defined, represented and promoted between 1930-1980. This includes formal attempts to define the role of the designer and to codify the professional practice of design. The second two chapters explore the techniques, tools and mechanisms through which designers have performed professional identities. Focusing on internal design networks, awards, symbols and the physical appearance of the designer, it argues that, historically, the design profession has been highly self-conscious of the image it presents to clients, the public and, crucially, to each other.Mapping is regularly deployed as a metaphorical device in design research, but the geographical distribution and disciplinary spread of the designer in Britain has never been analysed quantitatively. Using Geographical Information Software (GIS) to interrogate the membership records of the CSD, this project presents a series of maps, 1959-2010, which make visible, for the first time, the shifting connections between gender, design discipline, geography, membership status and institutional affiliations. This Digital Mapping Tool of the Design Profession, 1959-2010, is now available online as a research tool through which design research and practice communities can explore, investigate and reflect upon the shifting dynamics of a profession which, as this thesis reveals, is in a constant state of design.
Before this, Leah's first degree was BA(Hons) History (First Class) at the University of Manchester and in 2010, she completed an MA in Cultural History (Distinction). In March 2012, she curated a display of portraits at the Fashion and Textiles Museum to accompany the exhibition Designing Women: Post-War British Textiles. She also created a digital resource (http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/collections/design-archives/projects/women-designers) to accompany this exhibition. Since April 2013, she has been working as Part Time Research Officer in Contemporary Design Culture at the V&A Museum. She is interested in cross-disciplinary research, including work in the digital humanities, cultural studies and cultural theory, fashion and design history and sociology.