A short history of design

The Genius of Design gives a surprisingly interesting account of the recent history of design.

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The slip cover of The Genius of Design “entices” the reader by pointing out that design is everywhere, that it’s not just a feature of our surroundings, that it’s a process and that (blah blah) it’s a constantly changing reflection of our collective and individual identities.

So it was with some reluctance and trepidation that I approached The Genius of Design by Penny Sparke (as seen on BBC). However, I was pleasantly surprised and rather intrigued. The book could be described as a chronological journey through the history of design. Over five chapters it examines the impact and legacy of design, from the industrial to the modern, to the Bauhaus movement and beyond. It offers a well-researched history and cultural context of some of the biggest design features of the last couple of centuries with ample photographs and illustrations to support the text.

Examining design’s relationship with craft, feminism, fashion, war, mass production and media, Sparke gives a thorough and thoughtful account of how design permeates every sphere of modern life. With interesting sidebars about design-related topics like Tupperware’s rise to stardom and Dieter Rams’s industrial design legacy, there are few leaves unturned. Particularly relevant are the pages towards the end that examine and illustrate the contemporary design phenomena of graphic languages, branded cities, green agendas and virtual worlds.

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