Where is subjectivity located in the design curriculum? As a result of historical regulation of the place of practice and theory in British higher education, design students are routinely expected to utilize a range of different skills in the different aspects of their studies. Critics of what is sometimes described as the “academic element” of studio-based teaching and learning have complained that while art and design students are required to place themselves at the center of the creative process of making, they are denied this position in the historical and theoretical elements of their courses. In these kinds of characterizations, as a result of a perceived binary split between subjective and objective modes of apprehension and communication, the critical, cultural, and historical aspects of art and design education have been falsely positioned as dry and distant, lacking in empathy and personal engagement. Despite these myths and accusations, in practice – as this article demonstrates, using a case study from the University of Brighton – design students can experience historical and cultural studies as a fertile space for establishing their own subject positions as producers, consumers, and interpreters of designed objects in a material world. More broadly, subjectivity also intersects with design history teaching and learning through its core subject content, from the enduring centrality of identity as a critical framework and the increasing prominence of sensual, mnemonic, and material engagements with objects to new auto/biographical methodological approaches. Through a review of subjectivity in contemporary design history practice, then, this article argues that, in content and in method, the discipline is necessarily engaged and embodied, reflective, and affective.
- design education
- design history