Design Culture Salon 14: How dependent is the design profession on cultures of migration?

Friday 20 Feb 6:30pm-8:30pm Clore 55, British Galleries, Victoria and Albert Museum

Immigration has been a bargaining point between the political parties in the run up to the 2015 election and can be seen to particularly divide attitudes to working cultures in the UK. Economic experts point to the vital and invigorating role immigration plays in our national economy. Design historians have established that the UK profession was carved out by émigré designers. Sociologists and geographers continue to note the lasting and continuing importance of global cultures of design in shaping the UK creative economy. Design Culture, as a research discipline, studies the migration of ideas, cultures, aesthetics and styles as well as practices and people. Building on these perspectives, this Design Culture Salon asks the following questions: Does migration mean something particular and distinct in design? If designers are in the business of innovating and instigating change, is it an advantage for the designer to be an ‘outsider’? Or even further, is the designer necessarily an outsider? Could the design profession exist without these cultures of migration? Is the identity of the migrant or émigré an anachronism in an increasingly global design economy?

Chair: Guy Julier, Professor of Design Culture, University of Brighton and Victoria and Albert Museum.


Robin Kinross is a typographer, writer, and editor. In the 1970s he did postgraduate research on the work of Otto and Marie Neurath and has since maintained an interest in the emigration of the 1930s from Central Europe to the UK. In 1980 he started Hyphen Press, which publishes books on design and related subjects. His own books include Modern Typography, Unjustified Texts, Anthony Froshaug: Texts and Typography / Documents of a Life, and many essays and articles on typography and graphic design.

Alison J Clarke is Professor, Design History and Theory & Director, Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna whose forthcoming international biennial symposium, Émigré Design Culture: Histories of the Social in Design (2015) addresses the legacy of émigré histories in progressive design. As a design historian (RCA/V&A) and social anthropologist (UCL), Clarke specialises in histories and ethnographic research concerning the politics and social relations of design and material culture. A former Smithsonian Fellow, she is author of Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (made into an Emmy-nominated documentary) and Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century. She is co-founder and editor of inter-disciplinary journal Home Cultures: Architecture, Design and Domestic Space. Alison presently directs a major funded research project “Émigré Cultural Networks and the Founding of Social Design” (FWF: Austrian Science Fund), and is completing a related monograph with MIT press titled Design for the Real World: Legacies of Radical and Activist Design.

Max Nathan works at NIESR and at LSE, where he is a Deputy Director of the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth and a Research Fellow at the Spatial Economics Research Centre. His research looks at the economics of migration and diversity, innovation systems, and public policy for cities. Max has over 12 years’ experience working in UK think tanks, consultancy and public policy. Most recently he worked at the Department of Communities and Local Government as an ESRC-DCLG Senior Policy Adviser, covering a range of economic development and governance issues. In 2004 Max co-founded the Centre for Cities think tank, where he ran the research programme. He is an Associate at the Centre for London and the Institute for Public Policy Research, and a Research Fellow at IZA. 

Melissa Clark is Client Service Lead for the experience design firm Method, and has ‘nearly’ a decades experience leading and delivering customer insight, strategy, marketing and optimisation projects for international clients across sectors. A born and bred Londoner, she started her career at a boutique strategic consultancy to help clients realise the power of digital. Wanting to be closer to the action, she then decided to join the design world because she saw an opportunity to better bridge the gap between working out what to make and then making it. Curious, playful and colourful, she works with both her clients and team to deliver projects that make a difference, and continue to push boundaries. Her work has touched audiences in over 23 countries and in over 14 different languages. To date, she has been featured in Design Week, Fast Company, Creative Review, Wired Design.

Free event: All welcome! Directions to Clore 55 here:

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