Journal Article

‘Good design is largely a matter of common sense’: Questioning the Meaning and Ownership of a Twentieth-Century Orthodoxy

STEPHEN HAYWARD

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 11, issue 3, pages 217-233
Published in print January 1998 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online January 1998 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/11.3.217
‘Good design is largely a matter of common sense’: Questioning the Meaning and Ownership of a Twentieth-Century Orthodoxy

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This article has two main objectives the methodological enrichment of Design History, and the application of these perspectives to a central issue within the history of design—the ‘good design’ discourse.

In response to the ‘Post-Modern dilemma’—what to study?—Part One considers how in particular circumstances objects may be regarded as forms of cultural discourse. It is a perspective well established in material culture studies and museology where Foucault's idea that discursive artefacts operate as knowledge and involve the exercise of power has been highly influential In contrast much recent work on the history and theory of consumption has emphasized the positive aspects of cultural discourse—its ability to empower the individual and to facilitate self-representation In reconciling these positions I introduce Bourdieu's concept of ‘habitus’ or taste culture, an idea that allows a consideration of subjectivity in terms of the appropriation and modification of knowledge in accordance with distinctive circumstances

Part Two focuses on the ‘good design’ discourse I define this as a collection of axioms that were especially prominent in the 1930s and the post-war period In the field of public rhetoric it presented itself as ‘common sense’ However, I argue that it was a partial and Elitist form of knowledge in so far as it positioned itself in opposition to an idea of ‘mass’ culture When introduced to the market-place, ‘good design’ became ‘good taste’, taking on associations that were generic to particular commodity types I base my analysis on Heal's inter-war marketing strategy In order to reconstruct a consumer perspective on this commodified knowledge I examine the Mass Observation Report on the ’Britain Can Make It‘ exhibition of 1946.

Keywords: consumption; design industry; Great Britain; methodology; Modernism; representation

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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