Do It Yourself: Democracy and Design

P. Atkinson, Do It Yourself: Democracy and Design
Special Issue of the Journal of Design History 19(1), 2006.

The theme of this special issue arose from a perceived need to generate a discourse around the interface between 'design' taken as a function of the activity of 'professional' designers and being part of an established cycle of the design, production and consumption of goods; and 'Do It Yourself' taken as its antithesis - a more democratic design process of self-driven, self-directed amateur design and production activity carried out more closely to the end user of the goods created. Historically, productive and creative activities of this kind have allowed consumers to actively engage with design and the design process at a number of levels, and to express a more individual aesthetic unbounded by the strictures of mass-production and passive consumption. The agencies which have mediated this interface between design and DIY - the advice leaflets, manuals and guide books, exposition and retail catalogues, newspaper reports and magazines and later, radio and television programmes are of particular interest here. They are often the only evidence of what for many has been a significant element of the fabric of their everyday life - the results of the activity itself, due to their individual and personal nature, often disappearing without trace with the passing of time.

Do It Yourself acts as a democratising agency allowing people, paradoxically, to react against the principles and edicts of design connoisseurship whilst simultaneously enabling the emulation of those above them in social hierarchies. DIY has also acted as a leveller of class - overcoming the social stigma of manual labour out of sheer necessity, and permitting the working classes to engage in leisure activities from which they were previously excluded. This special issue attempts to broaden the existing work in the area by taking this aspect of design democracy as its unifying theme, and thereby expanding the notion of DIY from the narrow perspective in which it is often held.


Paul Atkinson: Introduction
Clive Edwards: Home is Where the Art is: Women, Handicrafts and Home Improvements 1750 - 1900
Fiona Hackney: Use Your Hands for Happiness: Home Craft and Make-do-and-Mend in British Women's Magazines in the 1920s and 1930s
Sarah A. Lichtman: Do-It-Yourself Security: Safety, Gender, and the Home Fallout Shelter in Cold War America
Andrew Jackson: Labour as Leisure - The Mirror Dinghy and DIY Sailors
Teal Triggs: Scissors and Glue: Punk Fanzines and the Creation of a DIY Aesthetic

The Journal of Design History Vol. 19, Iss. 1 is available from here

Short reviews of the Special Issue appeared in the Guardian and even the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists!