Select a designed object from the period of design history that we are studying this semester, 1945-2011. It must be a specific object on display at a museum of your choice. You may select an object from any museum display: it does not have to be European or American. Think carefully about your object: make sure that you are interested in it and that it offers a wealth of research opportunities. Bear in mind that if you study a very recent object there may not have been much written about it.
Your task is to research in detail the object of your choice: you will conduct a detailed analysis of the object. The research skills you have gained and your ability to put design in its wider context are crucial for this task. Below are some guidelines that will assist in directing your research.
Your research and essay will provide an analysis of your object in terms of its aesthetics, the design process through which the object was made, the socio-cultural context of the object, economic influences, technological considerations, its environmental impact and the value/meaning of the object, where relevant. Your essay will tell these various ‘stories’ that surround the object: your essay will provide a ‘biography’ of sorts for the object that you have selected. You should consider the ways in which the object was consumed and used as well as the ways in which it came to be designed and produced. You are recommended to see your object often, and to look closely at it: hence the need to choose a museum object.
You must not analyse your object as a design type, but you must be specific about the actual object that you see in the museum. So, for example, if you select a Marcel Breuer chair from the Design Museum, then you must consider that specific chair, and not just the generic Marcel Breuer design. This is very important: essays that concentrate on a generic design without any mention of a specific seen and studied object will be penalised. So, the context of the museum is vital to your analysis. You must begin with an assessment of your object in its place within the museum. What story is it telling there? (There are many books that address the meaning of objects in different display systems: they are catalogued under the title of ‘Museology’)
A key question to consider when confronting and thinking about your object is: Why does this object look the way it does? Or, how did it come to look like this? Or, how can we explain the particular form of this object. This requires you to analyse the object and place it within a wider context: socio-cultural, technological, historical and economic.
In researching your object and in writing your essay you should take a critical approach: you must seek to do more than report your research, or merely describe your findings. Read and research widely and show in your essay that your argument is developed in the context of other people’s writing. Good research is varied and focused. It draws material from different sources and makes original observations and connections. Good essays are well structured, carefully and clearly written and creatively argued. They are also well supported by good images that are analysed well. So images are essential: choose
them carefully and use them to enhance your argument. Consider some of the questions below as a guide to researching and writing your essay:
Design of the object
* what does this specific object look like: describe the object that you see, its colour, texture, form, space composition, decoration, ‘style’ where relevant; consider construction, material, scale. Engage with the poetic elements of your object: develop your visual awareness.
* who is the designer, is there significant change of meaning for the object if the designer is male/female? What was the designer’s intention with this object?
* what has influenced the designer?
* has this design been influential itself, has it impacted upon other design, or upon technology, or more widely? How?
* for whom/what end was this object designed?
* does this object belong to a design period; if so, how does it compare with other objects of its kind/style?
Production of the object
* where does this specific object come from?
* where was this object made?
* how was this object made?
* how much did this object cost: is this significant?
* what did this object mean for the producer/maker/manufacturer?
* consider technology and technological innovations: has the design of the object been influenced by technological innovations? Or has the design of this object introduced new technologies?
* what does the object mean for the culture/nation that produced it?
* what impact has the production of the object had on the environment?
Consumption of the object
* for whom was this object made? did this influence the way it was designed and made?
* where was it advertised/sold?
* who used it/how was it used?
* what might this object have signified for its user?
* all objects change meaning according to how they are used, displayed: does the object itself change its surrounding environment?
* how does the surrounding environment influence the meaning of the object? This is especially important as your objects are museum pieces: consider carefully the gallery/display in which you see the object: what story is told about the object here?
* consider different contexts in which you might see the design: pictures, advertisements, other museum displays, shop displays, a domestic environment: what meaning is given to the object in these different places?
* consider very carefully the images that you are using to represent your object: read their meanings carefully.
Beyond the library catalogue you should research widely: consider the museum for help and advice. Access also:
* Online databases for tracking down journal articles such as Art Index (ask librarians for guidelines)
* National Art Library, at the V&A Museum
* other museum/gallery libraries/learning resources
Enjoy the research: it is self-directed. Plan your time well. There are many examples of object analyses in design history texts: consult One-off. It is a collection of essays of master’s level object analyses. Also see back issues of Design History Journal.
Rules for essay writing: do not waver from these
* No plastic sleeves: simple, neatly bound or stapled essays, with cover and title page: name of student, student id number, object chosen, module number, year
* All essays MUST be word processed, double-spaced, no less than font point 12, using easily readable font style
* Your essays must be checked for correct spelling and grammar
* All images must be correctly sourced and captioned, glued or electronically pasted in
* Accurate referencing methods must be followed
* You must provide complete and accurate bibliographies
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