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Title: Graphic design and graphic designers in Milan, 1930s to 1960s
Author: Barbieri, Chiara
ISNI:       0000 0004 6352 3087
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2017
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Graphic design holds a marginal position in the Italian design historiography in relation to industrial design. Often written by and for graphic designers, histories have tended to concentrate on changes in graphic styles as exemplified in works by prominent designers or the visual communication strategies of major companies. By contrast, this thesis addresses the organisation of the graphic design profession in Milan, from the interwar period to the mid-1960s. Key aspects explored include: graphic design’s mutable meanings and practices; formal and informal educational practices; graphic designers’self-identification with a new profession; and the structures they created to organise and make their practice visible. A focus on dialogue and negotiation between different interest groups stresses the relational and contingent nature of design professions. The thesis asks whether Milan’s graphic practitioners capitalised on modernist ideas such as standardisation, universalism, objectivity and functionalism to distance themselves from graphic arts and advertising, and enable re-categorisation within design. Thus, it problematises the relationship between professionalisation and international modernism, within the specific context of industrial structures in Milan and the hierarchy of design practice in twentieth-century Italy more broadly. The thesis provides an original retelling of stories often taken for granted, and looks behind individual designers and big companies to uncover overlooked narratives. Five chapters addressing the Scuola del Libro and the Cooperativa Rinascita in Milan, the ISIA in Monza, the Milan Triennale, the Studio Boggeri and the associations AIAP and ADI draw attention to educational issues, design practice, professional organisations, networks and mediating channels that have defined, legitimised, represented, advanced, contrasted, and articulated the graphic design profession in Milan. The argument is built on close scrutiny of archival material and other primary sources, including extensive visual material and oral interviews. Methodologies derive principally from history of design and visual culture, and place great emphasis on visual analysis. Visual artefacts are approached both as visual expressions of design methodologies and aesthetic principles and, drawing on actor-network-theory, as three-dimensional actors that interact with people and other artefacts. Despite focusing on the local, the thesis draws on global design history as a methodology by taking into account the dynamic and multi-directional movement of people, ideas, and artefacts within transnational circuits. Building on sociological stances, it approaches professions as socially constructed concepts and argues that professional identities are constantly in formation and require continual adaptation to shifting environments, agendas and design discourses. The thesis aims to offer neither a comprehensive history of Italian graphic design nor a final assessment of its professionalisation. Rather, it prioritises the process of professionalisation, by stressing tensions and contradictions, and by following practitioners’ struggle to articulate what graphic design is. The originality and potential impact of the thesis lie in its endeavour to present a closely-articulated history of the graphic design profession in Milan that draws attention to economic, industrial, political, social and technological contexts, and to propose this as a template for the writing of graphic design history. Furthermore, it provides a historically-integrated, archive-based, outward-looking model for graphic design history as an integral part of the history of design.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust ; History of Design Society ; Il Circolo Italian Cultural Association
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W210 Graphic Design