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  From Solving Problems to Selling Product
Social Reform 1930-1950
Cultural Revolution 1950-1970
Design Reformers 1930-1950
Emerging Practice 1950-1970
Flexible Production 1970-1990
  Product Evolution
  Assignments Intro
Assignment 1
Assignment 2
  Image Archive

Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > From Solving Problems to Selling Product > Context > Overview
In order to understand the objects and artefacts of the past, it is important to be able to place them in context. Decisions taken by designers and manufacturers are rarely taken in isolation from their social and cultural context. Contrary to early accounts of the history of design (which owed a heavy debt to art historical methods), it is now widely accepted that designers are not able to operate as autonomous agents, but are – consciously or unconsciously – bound by the conditions within which they practice.

This section of the site gives brief accounts of two periods from British history. The 1930-1950 section describes a period split by the Second World War, and examines how the consequent social upheaval changed the structure and expectations of British society.

The second account focuses on the period 1950-1970, notable for its dramatic cultural changes, the increasing assimilation of U.S. culture, the rise of youth culture, and dramatic increases in the rate of consumption.

You should read these accounts in parallel with the Profession section, which gives an account of the design profession over the same period, and the Theory section, which offers a theoretical perspective on the period.

These books offer accessible introductions to the period of history covered by this module:

Arthur Marwick, Britain in our Century, Thames and Hudson, London, 1984
Arthur Marwick, British Society Since 1945, Penguin, Middlesex,1996
Richard Maltby (ed), Popular Culture in the Twentieth Century, Harrap, London, 1989
Richard Weight, Patriots: Nation Identity in Britain, 1940-2000, Macmillan, London, 2002
Nigel Whiteley, Pop Design: Modernism to Mod, Design Council, London, 1987

These books offer a useful introduction the various methodologies available to the Design Historian:

Judy Attfield, Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life, Berg, Oxford, 2000
Paul du Gay, Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, Sage Publications, London, 1997
John A. Walker, Design History and the History of Design, Pluto Press, London, 1989