So, in the process of applying for a couple of design history positions, I came up with a one-page statement of my research project. Felt better than years of therapy. This is it:
My research project is based on documenting and explaining the origins of professional graphic design in Canada after 1945. This project has been highly successful, as I am still working through and making sense of the wide range and sheer volume of artifacts and images it has unearthed. My research fills a huge gap in our understanding of global design. Although Canada enjoys status as a major developed economy, there has been little academic writing on its graphic design, and no single survey text or major exhibition to provide context and continuity in design studies in this country. My immediate goal is to finish writing and curating the images for such a survey text. This process will be aided by my new status as Research Associate at the Royal Ontario Museum, which houses the design archives of a number of Canadian designers.
In addition to digging back in time, my doctoral research studied how design works, going beyond the simplistic phrase “visual language” to examine how visual culture produces meaning through iteration and mimesis, without any working grammar or syntax. Design produces aesthetic, disciplinary, discursive, and even economic effects without having any regulating structure and without being a systematic language. In this sense, it is far more interesting than language. Revised parts of my dissertation have been published as articles, such as “Touch, Community, and Aesthetics: Where Harold Kurschenska’s Designs Take Us,” in DA, A Journal of the Printing Arts (2004). In addition to completing the publication of various other chapters from my doctoral work, I have another book project started, on Canadian designer and illustrator Eric Aldwinckle.
I have also sketched out a plan for a text on design history and theory. But far from adding another survey to the pile (I have taught the history of design from four different existing ones: Meggs, Raisman, Joubert, and Eskilson), I want to link key readings in critical theory to various periods and design movements, as work-shopped over ten years of teaching: Kant and typography; Saussure and Dada; Benjamin and Bauhaus; Adorno and International Style; Jameson and Grunge, etc.
I am also continuing my reading into post-structuralism, globalization and Marxist economics, and the implications for visual culture represented by the loss of presence and positive meaning that such analyses suggest. I am developing a series of articles, and hopefully a book, on how capitalism creates value (which it measures as the cumulative price of goods and services), and how design’s fluid, mimetic, and open source generation of value points not only beyond any professional design language, but beyond the capitalist mode of production itself. This thesis was the basis for my most recent paper, “Identities, Mimesis and Ownership: How Does Design Create Price and Value?” for a session I co-chaired at the Universities Art Association conference in Ottawa last month.