All roads lead here – A hundred years of design and democracy

“All roads lead here” was the first seminar in the series “A hundred years of design and democracy”, held on 12 March. The members of the panel viewed the meeting between design and democracy during the past hundred years from a historical perspective.

  

Video from the seminar, 12 March 2021 (in Swedish).

Swedish society underwent major changes from the middle of the 19th century onwards: compulsory schooling, industrialisation, the fight for universal suffrage, and large-scale migration into urban areas.

During this period, several pioneers, including Ellen Key and Gregor Paulsson, contributed in different ways to a democratic development in which design played a role.

“The leading pioneers often use a radical rhetoric that conflicts with our image of an objective, low-key functionalism. There’s a paradox between a democracy-based desire to improve the lot of the masses, while holding a demeaning perspective with what sometimes becomes an elitist perception of humanity”, says Anna Ingemark, lecturer in art history and visual communication at Linköping University, when describing the discourse of the period.

Design centred on the user has a strong position in Sweden.

“It is just as important to examine the ideas of participation and democracy that became embedded into the Scandinavia design tradition today as it was 100 years ago”, says Maria Göransdotter, teacher of design history and design theory at Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University.

During the 20th century, both manifestos and policies have been defined and drawn up around design, while design has been used with political overtones.

“Consider typography, for example. In itself, this has gone through a democratic revolution, as have many other aesthetically powered areas, through technical progress. But typography has also been used for other purposes, to both promote and conceal political intentions”, says Arina Stoenescu, senior lecturer in publishing science at Stockholm University, and senior lecturer in media technology specialising in typography and visual communication at Södertörn University.

“Design is an important societal tool that affects our daily life, such as self-realising items, creativity and freedom of choice. It is also an important political tool, and this is often overlooked in design courses”, says Astrid Skjerven, professor of design theory at OsloMet – Storbyuniversitetet.

As an example of this, Astrid Skjerven gives the work done by designer Victor Papanek for UNESCO. This has a neocolonial ethos, and arouses considerable attention.
We look forward to seeing you at a discussion with our four participants, led by Love Jönsson of Rian designmuseum.
Online via Zoom,12 March 2021, 9:00-11:30 am.  

Panel members 

Maria Göransdotter is teacher of design history and design theory at the Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University. Her work focusses on how a historically based understanding of ideas of design and society can contribute critical perspectives in the development of contemporary (and future) design. She has recently published her doctoral thesis: Transitional design histories.

Anna Ingemark is lecturer in art history and visual communication at Linköping University. Her research concerns primarily the discourse of the designed environment from historical and contemporary perspectives. She is currently writing about the radical architectural discourse of early modernism.

Astrid Skjerven is professor of design theory at OsloMet – Storbyuniversitetet. Her research interests are everyday aesthetics, the relationship between culture and sustainability, and Nordic design. She is currently working on two books to be published in 2022, one on Nordic design in a global perspective, and one on gender and sustainability.

Arina Stoenescu is senior lecturer in publishing science at Stockholms University and senior lecturer in media technology specialising in typography and visual communication at Södertörn University. She runs the micropublisher pionier press, which specialises in bilingual children’s books. She is currently working towards a PhD in publishing history at Lund University, where her thesis is entitled “Typography and Politics in Communist Romania 1948-1989”.

Love Jönsson is museum director at Rian designmuseum in Falkenberg. Rian designmuseum will hold the exhibition “Det textila är politisk (Political Textiles)”, with banners, tapestries and embroideries from the past hundred years that express in different ways commitment and a desire for change.

The seminar series is arranged by Linköping University in collaboration with SVID, Svenska designsällskapet and Svensk Form.

More information about the seminar series “A hundred years of design and democracy”

Translated by George Farrants

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