edited by Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, Victoria Rose Pass and Christopher S. Wilson. Bloomsbury, February 2019. 272 p. ill. ISBN 9781350051584 (h/c), $114.00.

Reviewed January 2020
Leanna Marie Manning, Designer & Editor, Freelance, hello@leannamanning.com

KaufmannBuhlerDesign History Beyond the Canon is a result of an institute held in July 2015 at Drexel University where a group of scholars and designers from the United States came together to discuss the topic Teaching the History of Modern Design: The Canon and Beyond. The institute created a container for several conversations: the methods of design history; the boundaries around art, design, and craft; and the integration of scholarship that challenges the canonical approach into the teaching of design history. In creating this collection of essays, the writers aspire to continue these conversations.

This volume is comprised of twelve essays written by different authors on topics that subvert the traditional design history canon. All authors and editors participated in the original institute, which is explained in detail in the foreword. The introduction provides a comprehensive overview of each section offering a brief description of all of the essays and how they relate to each other. Each essay has its own “Notes” section where endnotes expand upon ideas and resources referenced in the text. A table of figures and a detailed index are included.

Taking a novel approach, the essays are divided into three main sections according to people’s roles in design: Users/Consumers, Intermediaries, and Designers. The first section explores design from an everyday perspective of consumerism and consumer culture. Secondly, design is examined through the lens of “intermediaries,” including looking at design as a system of people, business, production, and institution. Finally, the last section highlights designers and the labor of the design process by looking at alternative models.

Examples of subversive “non-canonical” teachings in this collection include the origins of Punk fashion, cultural goods in the Soviet Union, racial stereotypes in graphic design history, and the design of physical and virtual spaces in order to encourage adventure play. As many writers and editors have contributed to this anthology there is no one consistent voice throughout, though it is apparent that the editors have made it coherent while also honoring the authors’ voices.

Figures accompany each essay, and though they are of good quality and provide some visual support, are entirely in black and white. Readers might have a richer experience if they were in color, as the content consistently refers to a visual element (i.e. illustrations, advertisements, photographs of interiors and fashion, etc.)

Design History Beyond the Canon would make a great addition to a design library. It is recommended for scholars in the field of design history in the United States who are teaching introductory courses but who also might be developing upper-level curriculum for design students. The essays are also suitable for and accessible to students in the field of design history.