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

This project explored 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 explored 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.


  • 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.



Making and Unmaking the Environment

Welcome to the Design History Society Annual Conference 2017. Call for papers: Deadline for submission of abstracts: 20 January 2017.

Time: Sep. 7, 2017–Sep. 9, 2017

Please submit your proposals in the form of anonymous MS Word documents to:

Design is both making and unmaking the environment. Conversely, it might be argued that the environment is both making and unmaking design. The Design History Society Annual Conference 2017 explores how these processes unfold, across timescapes and landscapes, thus opening a new agenda for the field of design history.

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the first Design History Society Annual Conference, held in Brighton in 1977, as well as the 30th anniversary of the Journal of Design History. In celebration of this landmark, we invite proposals for papers addressing the historiography of design and the history of the discipline, with the aim to curate a special anniversary strand on the making and unmaking of design history.

We are inviting proposals for individual papers of 20 minutes, or proposals for thematically coherent panels of three papers. Panel proposals must include abstracts for all three papers in addition to a short description of the panel theme.


Kjetil Fallan (University of Oslo)
Co-convenors: Ingrid Halland, Ida Kamilla Lie, Gabriele Oropallo (University of Oslo), and Denise Hagströmer (The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design)

Published Apr. 10, 2014 10:50 AM - Last modified June 10, 2022 10:09 AM


Project leader

Kjetil Fallan