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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > From Solving Problems to Selling Product > Profession > Overview

It is generally accepted that design as a widespread activity (rather than a recognised profession) has its beginnings in the Industrial Revolution, when the activity of manufacturing a product began to be separated from its conception. Until this time it was normal for the maker of an object to be the originator or guardian of the design – a system that can be described as craft production. In this case the design of an object could be handed down through generations of makers and often remained unchanged for many years. However, with the beginnings of industrialisation and mass production, it became more economical for products to be designed by a specialist, who would then supply instructions to factories populated by large numbers of semi- and un-skilled workers. It was at this point that a long running debate about the appropriateness of the forms specified by designers began, and with it a discussion about the nature and status of the people doing the designing.

This section of the site gives an account of the changes that have occurred in the design profession since 1945. The 1930-1950 section describes how design associations attempted to formulate a set of standards for designers and manufacturers to follow, and how the Second World War proved to be powerful factor in the development of the profession.

The second section focuses on the period 1950-1970, when designers began to practice as independent consultancies, and to reappraise their role in the light of the mass consumption of new products that had swept though the Western world.

The final section examines the period 1970-1990 when the combination of saturated markets, global production and marketing again gave designers cause to question their role and to reappraise their contribution to the conception of new products.

You should read these accounts in parallel with the Context section, which gives an account of the social and cultural conditions over the same period, and the Theory section, which offers an overview of the design theory of the period.
Indicative Bibliography

These books offer accessible introductions to the design profession in the twentieth century. Some of these books offer primary source material, in that they are first hand accounts written in the period under discussion (Gloag, Read and Carrington). Others offer a more general retrospective view (Heskett, Sparke, Woodham). The most recent publications (Pavitt, McDermott) offer a snapshot of current practice and debates within the design industry.

A huge number of books on the subject of design have been published in recent years. You are encouraged to browse your university library and build on this list.

Noel Carrington, Industrial Design in Britain, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1976
Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire – Design and Society 1750-1980, Thames and Hudson, London, 1986
John Gloag, Industrial Art Explained, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1934
John Heskett, Industrial Design, Thames and Hudson, London, 1980
Catherine McDermott, The Product Book, Crans-pres-Celigny, Hove, (in association with RotoVision), 1999
Jane Pavitt (ed),, V&A Publications, London, 2000
Herbert Read, Art and Industry, Faber and Faber, London, 1934
Penny Sparke, Did Britain Make It? British Design in Context 1946-86, Design Council, London, 1986
Jonathan Woodham, Twentieth Century Design, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997

To see how the design industry is currently represented you should visit the following websites:

For the Design Council:

For Design Week, the UK’s weekly design industry trade magazine: