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Help Re-Think Design History

Tax deductible
Hi! I teach the tired-looking students above. They have a right to look tired! We worked them like dogs that semester. But it was worth it.

Please consider helping me get these students’ fresh and crucial historical research out into the world!

 The Problem:

When graphic design students study design history, 99% of what they learn is about the "famous old white men" designers who made things in Europe and the USA in the last hundred years. 

Very, very rarely do they ever find out what went on in Africa, Asia, India or South America at the same time. Rarely do they hear about more than one or two designers of color or more than three or four women designers.

Never do they hear about the design work of indigenous peoples. Or about many topics students find valuable that the writers of history books don’t feel fit into the parameters of design: like comics, or the origins of computer type, or emojis, When it comes to tracing its actual history, graphic design needs serious help. 

The Beginnings of a Change:

Two years ago, my co-teacher and I asked our students what stories they believed had gone missing from design history, and to create a 80-100 citation annotated bibliography about this story and its immediate cultural context. Aside from this prompt, we gave them no guidelines. We wanted them to think about what they really felt was missing. A bibliography with 80-100 citations is a significant amount of research for undergraduates to undertake. They rose to the challenge.

Here's some of what that first class of Juniors thought is important to add to design history books : “Design of the Tulalip Tribes,” “Appropriation and Fetishization of and on Native women in Design,”  “Graphic Design of Vietnam,” “Hell on Earth: Art and Design Inspired by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings,” “The Swastika, Paganism and Mythology,” “The History of ID Software: 1991-2013,” “Satoshi Tajiri,” “The Branding of Terrorist Organizations and Their State Propaganda,” “Design of the Basque Region,” “La Cubanidad: The Innovators Who Created Cuba's Musical Identity,” “Leica and Its Influence on the Visual Arts,” “Sulki Choi and Min Choi,” “Ivan Bilibin,” “Rob Liefeld,” “Tony Arefin and Associates,” “Women in Contemporary Calligraphy,” “The Women of the Taller de Grafica Popular,” “Jose Guadalupe Posada,” “The Design of the Mexican Revolution,” “Asian Female Designers,” “The History of Emojis,”  and more.

All of these subjects expand what we think of as design history, and now, because of these students, all have at least one comprehensive bibliography dedicated to their subject. By gathering this data and mapping it, we’ll begin to  see what design history can look like if it is compiled from the bottom of the pyramid, rather than chosen from the top.

My co-teacher and I are printing these bibliographies in well-designed paperback books, created by Robert Baxter. We give them to the student-contributors, then sell the rest of them to interested people—MFA candidates, libraries and design programs. In this way we can ensure that we continue to publish a new bibliography with each new class. 

How much will designing and printing the book cost?

According to design and production estimates: 

The organization and final copy editing of the content
will cost $370;

Book design and production: cover, front matter, 280-320 designed pages: $1215

Printing: 450.00

Total: $2035.00

We hoped to design and print the book before September 2017, but the project became richer and more complex as it moved ahead. After the first edition, we added an index and front matter. The second edition is being published May 1, 2019.

Thank you so much for considering supporting our project! It's so important for us to have a history we all have created. With your help, that will happen.


  • Sondra Graff
    • $15 
    • 5 yrs


Natalia Ilyin
Seattle, WA
Cornish College of the Arts
Registered nonprofit
Donations are typically 100% tax deductible in the US.

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