Alice Twemlow

Alice Twemlow, a writer, lecturer, and curator, is Co-head of the Masters Program in Design Curating and Writing at Design Academy Eindhoven, the Netherlands. From 2008 to 2016, she was Founding Chair of the Masters Program in Design Research, Writing, and Criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

  • Sifting the Trash

    Sifting the Trash

    A History of Design Criticism

    Alice Twemlow

    How product design criticism has rescued some products from the trash and consigned others to the landfill.

    Product design criticism operates at the very brink of the landfill site, salvaging some products with praise but consigning others to its depths through condemnation or indifference. When a designed product's usefulness is past, the public happily discards it to make room for the next new thing. Criticism rarely deals with how a product might be used, or not used, over time; it is more likely to play the enabler, encouraging our addiction to consumption. With Sifting the Trash, Alice Twemlow offers an especially timely reexamination of the history of product design criticism through the metaphors and actualities of the product as imminent junk and the consumer as junkie.

    Twemlow explores five key moments over the past sixty years of product design criticism. From the mid-1950s through the 1960s, for example, critics including Reyner Banham, Deborah Allen, and Richard Hamilton wrote about the ways people actually used design, and invented a new kind of criticism. At the 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen, environmental activists protested the design establishment's lack of political engagement. In the 1980s, left-leaning cultural critics introduced ideology to British design criticism. In the 1990s, dueling London exhibits offered alternative views of contemporary design. And in the early 2000s, professional critics were challenged by energetic design bloggers. Through the years, Twemlow shows, critics either sifted the trash and assigned value or attempted to detect, diagnose, and treat the sickness of a consumer society.

    • Hardcover $34.95 £27.00

Contributor

  • The Aspen Complex

    Martin Beck

    Martin Beck's exhibition “Panel 2—'Nothing better than a touch of ecology and catastrophe to unite the social classes…'” draws on the events of the 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) and the development of the Aspen Movie Map to form a visual environment that reflects the interrelations between art, architecture, design, ecology, and social movements.

    The 1970 IDCA marked a turning point in design thinking. The conference's theme, “Environment by Design,” brought together venerable figures of modern design in the United States, including Eliot Noyes, George Nelson, and Saul Bass; environmental collectives and activist architects from Berkeley such as the Environmental Action Group, Sim Van der Ryn, and Ant Farm; as well as a group of French designers and sociologists, among them Jean Aubert, Lionel Schein, and Jean Baudrillard. The conference quickly escalated into a site of unresolvable conflict about communication formats and the potential role of design for environmental practices in a rapidly changing society.

    The ensuing decade heralded the development of an interactive navigation system, which used the same Colorado resort town as its test site. The Aspen Movie Map—initiated by MIT's Architecture Machine Group (the predecessor to the Media Lab) and partially funded by the US Department of Defense—is an image-based surrogate travel system using footage filmed in Aspen. Meant to prepare users for quick orientation in places they have never been to, the Aspen Movie Map was a seminal prototype for today's military and consumer navigation systems.

    The Aspen Complex documents two versions of Beck's exhibition—at London's Gasworks and Columbia University's Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery—and brings together yet unpublished archival material and new research on the 1970 IDCA and the Aspen Movie Map.

    • Hardcover $32.00