It Wasn’t Written
Celeste Bartos Theater, MoMA, New York
5. September 2018
The symposium “It Wasn’t Written” at the MoMA explores the influence of design on the writing of history. How do designers tell stories or how can history be interpreted by designers and used for the future?
The conference looks at the construction of history that emerges from descriptions of what has happened in written, spoken or iconographic form through visualisations, methods, and other elements of design.
It examines historical information presented by different “visualisations” (such as timelines), “publications” (such as history books), “exhibitions” (such as retrospectives) or “software” (such as history apps). The symposium is correspondingly subdivided into these four categories, and two points of view are presented in each by researchers and scientists who then debate them after the presentations.
The final speaker of the day is Arne Scheuermann, professor of design theory at the Bern University of the Arts and head of the communication design research unit. His lecture “Learning from Lego: Designing the Affective Staging of Historical Artifacts” deals with changing history and historiography. According to him, it is clear that the way information is presented has evolved, owing to the influence of social, increasingly more digital media, to use a mixture of many different styles including facts, beliefs or emotions. The difference between today and the past lies in the emotional presentation of information, much like, for example, a heliographic image works with emotion, in contrast to the scientific reproduction, that is the historiography, which does not. Lego’s emotional product design, the history of the enterprise and its historical significance, as well as examples of visual and emotional influences in brands such as Herman Miller, Vitra, and Iittala, filter out preliminary systems of applying rhetoric in historiography. The peculiarity of historical artifacts in design is that in contrast to architecture or documentation, they stay reproducible and they are open to reinterpretation in a different context. Thus, for example, you can see the photographic depiction of a product design from a bygone era as a medium in itself and catalogue it in a separate category of its own as a necessary statement. He raises the question of the role that emotional experience plays in historiography, what it looks like, and how it could be used in exhibitions.
The organisers are the communication designers Julia Meer and Robert Lzicar, who undertake international research in communication design and typography. Regular tickets cost 20 US-dollar and concessions ten US-dollar.