Don’t overlook what is going on in universities

Rick Poynor laments the dearth of serious, research-led book publishing in graphic design history (DW 28 September), citing the lack of trained graphic design historians, the conservatism of publishers and a reluctance of academics to tell the stories of individuals. Additionally, there are two broader issues to consider.


One is that design academics concentrate on publishing in academic journals and rarely cross into writing for professional design magazines – a point that Poynor himself has made on a number of occasions. The current emphasis on research metrics in universities discourages academic engagement with more ‘popular’ outlets in favour of the more ‘serious’, peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Design History or Fashion Theory. Research into design therefore rarely reaches a non-academic audience.


The second, reverse problem is the reticence of professional design magazines, including Design Week, to report on the many design research projects, conferences, symposia and workshops that take place in academia. I have yet to meet a design journalist covering one of the annual Design History Society conferences.


If history is not your thing, universities support lots of design research projects that go unreported in design magazines. They often produce interesting and useful knowledge. One example is a recent series of ‘Designing and Consuming’ workshops at Durham University. The outcome was a fascinating new approach to how product development may be conceived.


So the message is clear. We academics engaged in design research should, at the very least, remember to write press releases so that you design magazines know what we’re up to. Meanwhile, your journalists could sit up and take more notice of what’s going on in universities. Presently, we’re both missing out.


Professor Guy Julier, The Leeds School of Architecture, Landscape and Design, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds LS1 3HE

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