Dennis Doordan, University of Notre Dame
Brian Edlefson, University of Notre Dame


This project grew out of conversations between a Design Historian and a Visual Communications Designer. The focus of our conversations is a project to digitize and annotate an early twentieth century periodical called The Game. Between October 1916 and January 1923, thirty-four issues of The Game were published by Douglas Pepler; the calligrapher Edward Johnston and the artist and type designer Eric Gill worked with Pepler on the design of The Game.

Beyond practical concerns, our conversations quickly began to engage with the larger questions raised by the Converge Call for Proposals. What, for example, is the role of design in generating new knowledge? We argue that designers generate new knowledge through the reconfiguration of existing knowledge. Reconfiguration involves more than increasing access through the digitalization of rare print materials; it involves the enrichment of existing knowledge by connecting original source materials with subsequent scholarship and contemporary commentary. While there are models for making rare early modern art journals available on line the project described here aspires to more than just scanning and posting material online. We propose creating an online research portal that constitutes a digital tool for thinking. What does thinking imply? Thinking requires active engagement with a body of material and ideas that positions various types of information within some interpretive framework so that the user can make connections between disparate sets of information. Beyond expanding the set of examples readily available to interested parties, thinking leads to the formation of new questions that previously were difficult to conceptualize or to answer within the existing arrangement of resources and examples. These observations are developed using examples from The Game.

Since both the Design Historian and the Visual Communications Designer are faculty members at the same university they were keenly aware of the necessity to articulate the scholarly nature of their collaboration in terms that could be clearly aligned with the tenure and promotion criteria at their institution. The values and definitions identified in university RPT guidelines help frame the way the project is described. For example, our institutional RPT guidelines identify history as a humanistic discipline which investigates the interface between art and meaningThrough the examination and analysis of objects that are both original creations and, at the same time, historically and culturally determined. This same document rather than defining design in narrow professional terms describes design as an enabling catalyst, collaboratively increasing advantage and expanding opportunity between practitioners of different disciplines. We thus describe our digital humanities project as a truly collaborative effort that combines the investigative skills of the historian with the equally necessary enabling skills of the designer in a form that – again using our institution’s own language – innovatively promotes understanding. Complimentary skills sets are critical to digital scholarship and to the degree that the design community can articulate the distinctive nature of design skills and design thinking the value of design’s contribution to emerging research in digital humanities and STEM education will only grow.

 

Dennis Doordan is co-editor of Design Issues a journal devoted to the history, theory, and criticism. Doordan has published books and articles on a wide variety of topics dealing with modern and contemporary architecture and design. In 1999 Doordan was on the organizing committee for the first international conference on doctoral education in design. He has spoken about design education and interdisciplinary research at international conferences and been invited to participate in workshops and seminars on various aspects of design education

Brian Edlefson co-founded Thesis, a design consultancy that helped product manufacturers connect with architects and interior designers.  As a member of Whirpool Corporation’s multi-disciplinary Global Consumer Design team, Brian was responsible for merging graphic design with the product design of household brands like Whirlpool, Maytag, Kenmore and Amana. He has also worked with the design team and curatorial staff at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and was a senior graphic designer for Herman Miller—where he redesigned the corporate brand and all of its applications.