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Chiara Barbieri

PhD Work

Graphic design and graphic designers in Milan, 1930s-1960s: the layout of a profession

The professionalisation of graphic design in Milan forms the central subject of the PhD thesis. Attention is drawn to educational issues, professional practices, networks and mediating channels that have defined, legitimised, represented, articulated or, in some cases, contrasted the layout of the graphic design profession over a period of about thirty years. The thesis aims to offer neither a comprehensive history of Italian graphic design nor a final assessment of its professionalisation. Rather, it prioritises the process of professionalisation, by stressing tensions and contradictions. The Scuola del Libro and the Cooperativa Rinascita in Milan, the ISIA in Monza, the Milan Triennale, the Studio Boggeri and the professional associations AIAP and ADI are employed as case studies. Methodologies derive principally from design history and visual culture, and place great emphasis on visual analysis. Building on sociological stances, the thesis approaches professions as socially constructed concepts and argues that professional identities are constantly in formation and require continual adaptation to shifting environments and design discourses. The argument is built on close scrutiny of archival material and other primary sources, including extensive visual material and oral interviews. The originality and potential impact of the thesis lie in its endeavour to present a closely-articulated history of the graphic design profession in Milan that draws attention to economic, industrial, political, social and technological contexts, and to propose this as a template for the writing of graphic design history. Furthermore, it provides an outward-looking model for graphic design history as an integral part of the history of design.


  • PhD


    School of Humanities


    History of Design, 2013–2017

  • I am a PhD candidate in the RCA History of Design Department in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum. My PhD thesis explores the professionalisation of graphic design in Italy from the interwar period to the mid-1960s focusing on design education, mediating channels, design organisations, design practices and networks. I am also working on the research project ‘Swiss Graphic Design and Typography Revisited’ (SGDTR) in association with the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Berne. I completed my BA and MA (2005-2010) in History of Contemporary Art at La Sapienza University (Rome) and graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art (London) in 2012 where I specialised in 20th century German Art and Visual Culture. My research interests include graphic design, visual culture, propaganda and political caricature.
  • Degrees

  • PhD History of Design, Royal College of Art, London, 2017; MA History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 2012; MA History of Art, La Sapienza, Rome, 2010; BA History of Art, La Sapienza, Rome, 2008
  • Experience

  • Researcher, HKB Bern University of the Arts, Bern, 2016-; Co-organiser, AHRC TECHNE workshop ‘Unpacking the Archive: Methodologies and Challenges in Design History’, RCA, London, 2017; Teaching assistant and research seminars organiser, RCA/V&A, London, 2015-17; Researcher and assistant curator, Aiap, Milan, 2015; Co-organiser, Humanities Research Forum ‘Designing Identity: Historical Perspective’, RCA, London, 2014; Researcher, HALI Publication, London, 2013-14; Database manager and registrar, Hannah Barry Gallery, London, 2012-13; Archivist and database manager, freelance, London, 2012-13; Archive assistant, Kurt-Schwitters-Archiv Sprengel-Museum, Hannover, 2011; Gallery assistant, DZ-Bank Kustsammlung, Frankfurt A.M., 2011
  • Exhibitions

  • 'AIAP 70x70: Eventi, personaggi e materiali di storia associativa', Fabbrica del Vapore, Milan, 04-08.11.2015; 'From Leipzig to London: The Life and Work of the of the émigré artist Hellmuth Weissenborn', Ravensbourne College of Art, London, 30.11 - 4.12.2012
  • Conferences

  • ‘The resonance of sans serif within and beyond the Scuola del Libro in Milan, 1933-43’, The Song of Sans Serif, one-day symposium, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, 30.09.2016; ‘From Bauhaus to Milan through posters: Xanti Schawinsky in Italy’, Von Weltformat: das Schweizer Plakat aus historischer und bildwissenschaftlicher Perspektive, conference paper in collaboration with Dr. D. Fornari, Basel University, Basel, 03/05.06.2016; ‘The Sergeants of Graphic Design: Design Education in post-war Italy’, New Design Thinking TECHNE event, University of Brighton, Brighton, 08.04.2016; ‘Graphic Design and Vocational Education in Italy: Primary Sources and Research Questions’, AIS Design & AIAP annual conference, Scuola Politecnica, Genoa, 27.06.2014; ‘HomeMade: house-style and in-house graphic departments in Italy’, as part of the symposium ‘Designing Identity: Historical Perspective’, Humanities Research Forum, RCA, London, 21.03.2014; 'Illustrating the Internment. The Graphic Contributions in The Camp and The Onchan Pioneer’, Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, Senate House, London, 20.11.2013; ‘George Teltscher-Adams: One Bauhaus, two wars, three continents’, Imperial College, London, 07.02.2013
  • Publications

  • 'Daily Bauhaus. An Incomplete Glossary',Progetto Grafico, 31 (2017), pp. 103-108; 'AIAP 70x70: Eventi, personaggi e materiali di storia associativa', exhibition catalogue co-edited with F. Guida (Milan: AIAP, 2015); ‘Designing Identity: Historical Perspectives’, co-edited with T. Klevgaard, T. Messell and D. Preston, Prova Humanities Research Forum Journal, 2 (2014), pp. 23-38; ‘a combination of simple elements. the universal language of the bauhaus’, Progetto Grafico, 22 (2013), pp. 140-155; ‘MERZabbildung: Kurt Schwitters’ last collages’, The Kurt-Schwitters-Society Journal, 1 (2011), pp. 23-38; ‘Daniel Buren e il restauro a colori dei Deux Plateaux’ Rolsa, 10 (2008), pp. 101-09