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The Cost of Design

9th September 2019

Design History experts from around the world arrived at Northumbria University last week for the Design History Society Annual Conference 2019. 

This year’s theme ‘The Cost of Design’ explored the complexities of the historic and contemporary relationship between design and economy.

The theme for this year tied very closely to the location of the conference.

The North East of England, particularly the urban centres of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough have witnessed dramatic changes in terms of our design and creative industries.

Coal mining, ship building, and glass production all contributed to the region’s prosperity in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A shift in politics and economics in the 1970s and 1980s saw these industries decline.

A change was needed and in the 1990s investments came which led to the regeneration of certain areas, notably the Newcastle-Gateshead quayside with the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (2002) and the Sage Gateshead (2004); in Middlesbrough with the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (2007); and Sunderland’s National Glass Centre (1998).

The conference venue at Northumbria University was also significant.

The rise of the polytechnics in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a direct response to the political and social changes that resulted in a shift in British higher education that sought to support vocational and practice-based studies through the provision of contextual studies.

In 1969, Newcastle Polytechnic, which would then become Northumbria University in 1992, was formed.

In addition to the formation of communities of practice, academics desiring to develop a critical approach to design history came together.

To facilitate this, the first conference, ‘Design 1900 – 1960’ was convened by the division of the History of Art and Complementary Studies at Newcastle Polytechnic in 1975.

The delegates in attendance continued to meet regularly and in 1977, the Design History Society was formed.

This year’s conference is therefore a homecoming of sorts, celebrating and reaffirming connections made over the years as well as developing new connections and networks.

Hear from some of those involved in this year's DHS annual conference in the short video below:

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