Design and the Pandemic

Combination tool
Combination tool (The National Archives)

DIY and Modern Making

For all the difficulties of self-isolation and social distancing, during the pandemic many people have been building, upcycling, painting and all things home-made. Whether practiced in order to combat boredom or stress, or to adapt to a new way of living, DIY has been increasingly popular. In his article in the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Giuseppe Salvia looks at the history of DIY, covering the motivations and strategies for it, the challenges faced and the development of the practice over time. Within ‘Casting Things as Partners in Design’, her chapter in Relating to Things, Elissa Giaccardi discusses the potential of modern-day DIY and contemporary maker culture, exploring how technology has aided the revival of interest in self-made products.

Sign showing people must keep 1.5 metres distance

Design and Care

The pandemic has also challenged our systems in society. Having encouraged designers to reconsider practices and collaborations with organizations, facilities and health services, there is an urge to think about design as a practice of care, explored by Laurene Vaughan in Designing Cultures of Care. Organizations also need to acknowledge the variety of needs and challenges faced by those working at home, as not everyone has access to an ideal workstation. In her contribution to Making Disability ModernJennifer Kaufmann-Buhler looks at office design and disability over the last few decades, exploring the politics and logistics of ergonomic design.

Valet chair for folding clothesValet chair (Designmusem Danmark: The Danish Chair exhibition)

Emotion and Objects

What does furniture mean to us and how do we engage with these designed objects in our homes? How do designers take this into consideration? In recent times, many of us may have been compelled to cast a creative eye on our homes and fill the space with meaningful objects. In his book Moving Objects, Damon Taylor explored the history of emotive design, examining the power of design and the relationships we have with objects that serve far more than functional purposes. Looking at the work of Droog designers like Jurgen Bey and Hella Jongerius, the Campana brothers, Marten Baas, Mathias Bengtsson and others, Taylor explores contemporary issues of how we live with objects in our homes and what design can really do. He also addresses how and why we ascribe value to certain objects in 'Valuing Emotive Design', particularly how the emotional influence of an object can relate to its value. But how do we value design after a pandemic? How do we now value objects, people, labour, environments, and systems? The pandemic has forced us to reassess our ideas about what we value, what moves us and what we should cherish moving forward.

Althea McNishImage Credit: Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives


Althea McNish (1924-2020), whose life and work spanned two centuries, was a highly influential textile designer known for her vibrant, colourful contributions to the British textiles industry. McNish was born in Trinidad, moved to London in the 1950s and, accomplished in art, fashion and textiles, went on to design fabrics and furnishings for Liberty, Dior, Heal's and Hull Traders. She was one of the first designers of African-Caribbean descent to achieve international recognition and her unique aesthetic and sense of colour can be seen in memorable designs such as Golden Harvest, Painted Desert and Grenada. Many of her designs are widely recognised today. In ‘Althea McNish and the British-African Diaspora’, in Pop Art and Design, Christina Checinska interviews Althea’s partner, John Weiss, discussing her work and her enduring influence in the industry.

Homepage image: Homemade masks (Getty images)

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