Week 2 | Stephen .J. Eskilson | 19th Century Design

So week 2! Stephen Eskilson delivered us with the insightful retrospective deconstruction of the 19th century design.

Quick little summary, Eskilson details some changes in design history, talking about the industrial revolution and the introduction of the Gutenberg press. The Gutenberg press was the spark of mass production and even improved literacy. Movable metal type made printing faster, easier and more durable vs the original wooden printing press and therefore more accessible. Then things changed with the enhancing technology, shifting into more refined printing and image production like lithography with oil and water etc… These efforts began to encourage printed illustrations and encourage pictorial design. Soon photography was more common due to the daguerreotype camera photography process.

Pictured: (Top left – lithography – http://sparkboxstudio.com/the-joy-of-kitchen-lithography-2/)

(Bottom left – daguerreotype camera – http://www.photographyhistoryfacts.com)

(Right – Gutenberg Press – https://mlc-wels.edu/library/library/library-resources/431-2/2692-2/)

There we some governmental changes and such along this timeline which influenced the history and printing and design, including stamp duty fees that counteracted the accessibility of the press, only the upper class could afford it. Officials were confronted, threatened and insecure about their portrayal and so censorship became involved in the process, to the point of imprisoning Daumier, a French print maker and caricaturist due to his expression of government officials in print pictorials.

Pictured: Honore Daumier caricature lithography published in print
(Left – Un Abus de confiance, 1842, lithograph on newsprint, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1979.49.105 From the National Gallery of Art)
(Right – Daumier fut le peintre ordinaire…, probably 1839, lithograph on newsprint, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1979.49.254)
Source: http://www.printmag.com/design-education/online-design-courses/honore-daumier-the-michelangelo-of-caricature/

Eskilson then explains that because mass production in media and communication was thriving, people then started to recognise design decisions in the production, considering layout and using images as a support and adage to type, cohesively, as well as the type of font and typography.

The important thing that I noticed most from this is how important design is, as a student learning about the history but also as my future profession and recognising the power and responsibility that design captures. The world did have an impact on design, but design has shaped the world.

Design altered our way of communication. People had this new passage of information, people didn’t gather to hear someone spread word, they had flexible access, and that encouraged independence. This mass communication started with the Guttenberg Press has widely evolved over time, becoming technological and online, which has arguably been a positive and negative thing. Due to the diversity of the people, we now have a boundless communication network across the internet and consume media all day every day. People can find their community and niche, while also stay in touch with the news around all corners of the world, and advertising across all platforms in life and online. We are connected, but also disconnected. Detached from a face to face reality. We now have this abundance of rich information and communication, with literacy, education and independence improving but we are losing touch with humanly communication.

A study in 2014 by UCLA showed that children were failing to correctly identify non verbal emotions due to the increasing disconnect of being online and behind screens. The full experiment is linked below. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003227 )

Design, even in the 19th century was able to guide public opinion. In 1860, a photo of Abraham Lincoln was published during election, prior to his election. The photo has been credited to his successful campaign.


Matthew Brady photograph of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 prior to his election

It’s both somewhat daunting and empowering, with great power comes great responsibility. Even successful design can have unexpected consequences as I mentioned before our rapidly inhuman communication and advancing tech of smart phones. They are giving us this convenience, but there’s many new adverse effects, health and psychological concerns. I wrote in an essay just last semester, studies are showing what they call “tech neck” due to us looking down at our phones and “nomophobia” the increasing anxiety surround mainly adolescence the phobia being without a mobile near them.


Pictured : Tech Neck  (https://www.peppernaturalhealth.com/tech-neck-modern-day-pain-in-neck/)

We as designers have so much power, directly and indirectly, we need to really evaluate our actions before we send them out into the world. From propaganda and negative side effects, or positivity empowering people with advertising or helpful products.

The world empowers us as well, we need to stay aware and have an active role in keeping up with social changes. Most recently the push for diversity and inclusion, an on-going matter that has been strung through history. As designers, more campaigns and branding designs are incorporate environment are creating advertising with diverse body figure and race profiles. We are supporting positive change, we are making positive change, we are enabling and fuelling positive change.

Pictured – L’Oreal True Match Campaign, #RealBeauty campaign and #PlusIsEqual campaign

How did we get from Gutenberg to here!! That’s the thing though, design and history is so interconnected. World history helps us as designers and we can draw on the past to improve or even inspire us like Eskilson says they major revival era during the 19th century, designers experiencing, some successful others not but that’s how we improve. I’m so excited to keep learning over the next few weeks.



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