History of Design 1830 to Present: Course Summary

Jessica Jae Ainsworth-Truong

| ID3420 History of Design 1830 to Present | Course Summary |

This summary reflects my personal approach to the course and is based on the course description and competencies outlined by The Art Institute International Minnesota.

For this course, I provide an in depth study of the interiors and furniture of the last two hundred odd years.  I provide understanding of the socio-economics, popular culture, and technological innovations that shaped design and help the students understand the underlying reasoning behind styles and motifs and what that says about the period.

Overarching Course Goals

The overarching goals of this course are best represented by questions I want the students to have in the back of their minds every time we meet.  Many designs that I cover are inspired by history or have maintained popularity for many years.  What are the essential components of those pieces that keep them relevant?  What do they have in common?  I want students to analyze and consider period design under the following greater questions:

“Why does history repeat itself?”

“What is timeless design?”

“What is art? What is craft?”


The class is chronologically ordered from the Victorian Era to Contemporary design.  Each lecture covers a specific period and starts with a brief cultural overview to help the students get in touch with the time period.  I then cover period interiors, pointing out trends and motifs and explaining the cultural reasoning behind them.  I then move on to furniture pieces and specific designers.  Discussion questions are scattered throughout lecture and I also wrap up with images of period interiors and have the students point out features and motifs.

I feel that the best way to engage students is to entertain them.  I provide the necessary design information, but I often back it up with unusual facts or stories.  For example, I reiterate the importance of cleanliness in the Victorian Era with a bawdy poem from the period and explain the Eames involvement with pressed plywood through the story of the “Kazaam!” machine and their war efforts.

I also think its important to get students out into the city to see significant places.  I have many field trip options, but there are two that I visit every quarter.  The first is the Ramsey County Court House and Saint Paul City Hall, as it is one of the best examples of art deco design in the country and it is virtually complete from the wall panels to the door knobs.  I also like to take them to Design Within Reach to sit in the mid-century modern chairs.  Seeing the students eyes light up when they can touch a piece of history that they know about is one of the great parts of my job.

The Sketchbook Assignments.

The major portion of the student’s grade is the sketchbook.  They are required to document ten predetermined periods through sketches and images.  They add notations to the photographs explaining why the piece is representative of the period.  With this assignment, I see their knowledge of history applied through selection and notation.  Sketching requires deep observation of objects/interiors, which helps imbed the information.  I also get an opportunity to reiterate the importance of keeping a sketchbook and its positive benefits on their communication skills.

The Presentation Assignments.

The four presentation assignments each provide the students with an opportunity to do in depth discovery of something or someone not discussed in class.  They are provided with the background for the information through lecture, but fill in the details with their presentations, thus allowing them to teach the material.  If I’ve learned anything as an instructor, its that the opportunity to teach something gives you greater command of the information.


Within each lecture, there are images of interiors and furniture that are starred to indicate they may possibly be on the exam.  The furniture pieces are for identification questions, asking about the designer, the period, and the relevance of the piece.  The interiors may be used to ask a compare and contrast question.  Students use this question to discuss themes from lecture, such as line or nature, and point out how cultural views change our interpretations of them.

I really enjoy teaching this class because the students really start to see history around them.  They come to class with catalogs pages marked where they have found pieces inspired by what they are learning about.  They come to class and want to talk about how a certain period is having a resurgence in popularity and what that might say about our current culture.  They leave class and go on to create designs inspired by what they have learned.


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