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Back to the Sustainable Future: Visions of Sustainability in the History of Design

This project explores the historical conditions for the emergence of sustainable design and its development from the 1960s to the present.

Two men look down on a paper with a drawing. Photo.

Gary Anderson and his original design of the recycling logo. Source: Wikipedia

About the project

This project will explore the historical conditions for, and development of, sustainable design. Today, sustainability is an essential parameter in all design practice, education, research and mediation. However, this 'green revolution' is a glaringly white spot on the design historical map, still awaiting its scholarly historicization. Historical understanding of and critical reflection on the rise of sustainability as the primordial trope in design discourse is essential to building a solid knowledge base and to underpin present and future decision-making. Given the immense societal significance of sustainability and the crucial role played by design in its past, present and future, the project will also have great relevance both for contemporary discourse and cultural history broadly defined. Researching the design history of sustainability requires new, interdisciplinary collaborations and approaches, as well as new methods of inquiry. To that end, this project will forge bonds with the field of environmental history, and explore the untapped but promising potential of the Digital Humanities in a sustained effort to renew the discipline of design history more in tune with an ever more pervasive design culture.

Back to the Sustainable Future


  • To explore how designers, educators, theorists, critics, promoters, consumers and users have conceptualized visions of sustainability in the history of design since the 1960s.
  • To trace how notions of sustainability have migrated across time and socio-cultural domains, from design education and social activism via commercial and industrial contexts to mainstream media and consumer behavior.
  • To chart a completely blank spot on the design historical map and thereby expand the subject matter of the Field.


Published Apr. 10, 2014 10:50 AM - Last modified Dec. 15, 2020 10:14 AM