Not For Trade – The Discourse Of Design In British Industry. European Academy Of Design Conference, Barcelona 2003
This invited paper developed from earlier work, cited by economic historians such as Zeitlein and Daunton, explored the location, and implications of that location, of the design process in various sectors of British industry in the 1950s and 1960s. It offered alternatives to the concepts of ‘good design’ advocated and drawn on by design commentators and historians whilst exploring the commercial attributes of design within industry and the complex interplays between market structures, product development, company culture and aspirations. Based on extensive research in a wide variety of archives, from governmental papers to individual company and trade records the paper underlined the importance of challenging a priori assumptions in the separate, but related, fields of business and design history.
As with earlier work, this research was conducted in the interface between economic and design history. The former largely ignoring the design function in industrial and commercial activity, particularly in the rapidly developing markets of the advanced and newly industrialising countries after the Second World War with economic development facilitating, and being facilitated by, an emphasis on consumer products and the latter largely ignoring the commercial and industrial context of, and constraints on, the design process through an emphasis on individual designers or design successes (which, as in the case of the mini motor car, could be financial disasters). In looking at the cultural preconceptions both of cotemporary protagonists as well as of later historians, the work also addressed the cultural, and class, assumptions which informed both attitudes towards commercial and industrial developments and the relationships between elite sectors of the state governing apparatus and the rapidly developing world of quangos and lobbying organisations. In utilising the methods of business and economic historians, allied to a close analysis of prevailing political structures, this work, as with previous publications in the field, offers a fresh perspective on the trajectory of design in post-war British industry and on the cultural and ideological constructions of design organisations and lobbyists.