Week: 3 (pre-discussion)
Text: Twentieth Century Design
Author: Jonathan M. Woodham
Publisher: Oxford New York
Other notes:1997; Chapter 2: Design and Modernism
This critique is going to be shorter than the previous ones, because how you you critique an author when they write like Woodham? What I mean by this is that Woodham takes a completely neutral, unbiased stance on the topic of 20th century modernist design, and tells it how it is, without personal input. Now I could critique on the impersonal nature of the writing, however I found it to be a virtue, particularly considering the political nature of the time period. Instead I’ll talk about the things that I found to be minor inconvenience while reading.
One of this minor inconveniences is that in parts of the text, there are numbers in square brackets, which I assumed were reference numbers. It wasn’t until halfway through that I realised that the numbers indicated which images went with what was being said. Which leads me onto the fact that a lot of the images aren’t on the same page as the related text, and as I mentioned in my first critique (see: Graphic Design: A Critique) this is a pet-peeve of mine. However, unlike Eckilson, I will give Woodham a pass on this, because although the images helped the reader visualise and they gave the text a higher sense of aesthetics, they weren’t necessary, the text would have made just as much sense without them.
Continuing on from the aesthetics of the book, and this is 100% a personal complaint, I would have liked the sub-headings to be slightly larger. Simply because I don’t like to stop reading in between subheadings, and this font size made it difficult to find the next one to decide whether I had enough time to read through to it or not.
However ultimately the size of the font is not Woodham’s fault (but rather the publishers), unlike the lack of pronunciation descriptions. I am not Swedish, therefore, I applaud Woodham for adding in the Svenska Slödföreningen means Swedish Society of Industrial Design, but if you’re then going to proceed to use the Swedish name several times, it would make it easier if the reader (ie. me) knew how to pronounce it. Otherwise in my head it ends up sounding like when I go to the pharmacy to get my medication, “the diffen-flaxen-burgen-urgen-whatever.” Also shout out to my pharmacist for being able to translate that.
All of these minor inconveniences aside, the main thing that I picked up on in Woodhams writing, was his attention to what I would call feminism. The first few decades of the 20th century weren’t great for anyone, but they were particularly not great for females, remembering that a lot of countries still hadn’t given them the right to vote (saudi Arabia being the most recent in 2015) and even after the second world war, they had to fight to gain independence to be allowed to work. However, where relevant, Woodham has remembered to include, or even just mention, the female designers. Even when they were overshadowed by their husbands, because their work was (and still is) relevant.
All in All Woodham’s writing was great, fully relevant, inclusive, and unbiased, which is exactly what is needed in a recount of history, particularly the beginning of the 20th century. Those times may have been dark for the world, but in our grief, we must not forget the work that was done and the advancement in design (and gender equality) that was made.