Universiteit Leiden

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Alice Twemlow

Senior University Lecturer

A.K. Twemlow
+31 71 527 2727

Alice Twemlow is a design historian with expertise in the history of design criticism. She is associate professor in Leiden University’s Academy of Creative and Performing Arts and helps to supervise PhDArts candidates, and research professor at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK) where she leads the “Design and the Deep Future" readership.

More information about Alice Twemlow

Previously, Twemlow directed the Design Curating & Writing Master at Design Academy Eindhoven, and founded the Design Research MA at the School of Visual Arts, New York. She is the author of Sifting the Trash: A History of Design Criticism, (MIT Press, 2017).

Trawling the Trash: Design’s Critical Engagements with Waste

When product design is considered from the perspective of the waste it will inevitably become, then, as design theorist Ben Highmore has observed, ‘it is hard not to see global warming and climate change as a consequence of a variety of design processes, design values and design products’. A gathering acknowledgment of the design’s complicity in climate change is generating demand for consideration of other moments in a product’s lifecycle, apart from its birth, such as how it might be used by someone over time, what happens after its period of usefulness is over, and when it is disposed of.

A closer examination of what happens when a designed product becomes trash, of the social behaviours, politics, infrastructures, mechanisms, and economies that shape and gather around refuse and its disposal, could surely enrich our understanding of design culture and provide a much-needed critique of currently dominant labels that mislead with their deflection of attention away from the physicality of waste, such as the supposed immateriality of information, the ‘cloud’, service design, ‘innovation culture’, and the ‘creative economy’.

Through its excavation of historical instances of design criticism’s and critical design’s attempts to surface the impact of design on the physical environment and the social psyche, and its consideration of some contemporary experimental modes of practice and speculative projects, this research seeks to offer an array of precedents for how product design and its criticism might be conducted in the future.

Twemlow has an international presence as a writer, speaker, educator, juror, examiner, critic, and conference director and moderator on all aspects of design culture.

• Design Lector, KABK, September 2017-
• Associate Professor, Leiden University, September 2017-
• Founding Chair, MFA Design Criticism and MA Design Research, School of Visual Arts, New York, 2008-2015 (continuing as advisor and guest critic)
• Senior Research Fellow, MADA, Monash University, Melbourne, 2017-
• Visiting Professor, University of the Arts, London, 2015-
• External Examiner, National College of Art and Design, Dublin, 2018-

• Head, Master Department, Design Curating & Writing, Design Academy Eindhoven, 2016-2018
• Chair, MA, Design Research, Writing, and Criticism, School of Visual Arts, New York, 2012-2015
• Chair, MFA, Design Criticism, School of Visual Arts, New York, 2008-2012

• Ph.D (RCA) History of Design, Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, London, 2007-2014. Dissertation: “Purposes, Poetics, and Publics: The Shifting Dynamics of Design Criticism in the US and UK, 1955-2007”
• M.A. (RCA) History of Design, Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, London, 1994-1996
• B.A. (Hons) English Literature, Bristol University, 1991-1994

• “Don’t Think, Discard!” Dirty Furniture Journal, Summer 2018
• “Smiley Faces: The Graphic Language of Electronic Dance Music Promotion,” Night Fever: Designing Club Culture, (Weil-am Rhein, Germany: Vitra Design Museum, 2018)
• “Victor Papanek’s Design Criticism for the Real World,” Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, (Weil-am Rhein, Germany: Vitra Design Museum, 2018)
• “Remix or Mash-up?: Stedelijk Base installation,” Disegno Journal, Spring 2018
• “Making Her Mark: Elaine Lustig Cohen,” Frieze magazine, December 2017
• Review of Wim Crouwel monograph, Eye magazine, Spring 2017
• “Graphic Design Research Today,” Graphisme en France, Paris: CNAP, 2016)
• “Panda Cubs, Dude Wipes, and Glitter Pills: The Mixed Visual Messages of Contemporary Toilet Products,” Dirty Furniture Journal, 2016
• Review of Lance Wyman monograph, Journal of Design History, Winter 2016
• “Reflections on the Lolita Book Cover Project,” Lolita, The Story of a Cover Girl, ed. John Bertram, (New York: Print Books, 2013)
• “Guaranteed Communications Failure: Consensus Meets Conflict at the International Design Conference at Aspen, 1970,” The Aspen Complex, ed. Martin Beck, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012)
• “On Demand: The Rise of Micro Design Publishing,” Graphic Design Worlds/Words, (Milan: Triennale Design Museum, 2011)
• “Innovation in Contemporary Graphic Design,” Sixty Innovators Shaping our Creative Future, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009)
• Introduction, Barnbrook Bible, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007)
• “Bark to Bytes: Trees as Interface,” ELSE/WHERE, Janet Abrams, Peter Hall (eds.), (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Design Institute, 2006)
• “The Decriminalization of Ornament” and “The List as a Visual Device and Metaphor in Graphic Design” republished, Looking Closer 5 (New York: Allworth Press, 2007)
• Introduction, Why Not Associates? 2, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004)

• “Critical Visual Language: The Role of Expanded Writing Formats in Design Criticism and Critical Design,” Critical by Design, Academy of Art and Design FHNW, Basel, May 2018
• “Design Criticism and the Anthropocene,” The Interdisciplinary Impact of Creative Practice Research Symposium, Monash University, Melbourne, 2017
• “Modernism, Ecology, Design Criticism, and the Anthropocene,” Wim Crouwel Institute and Special Collections, University of Amsterdam, 2017
• “Writing Design /Design Writing,” University of the Arts, London, 2017
• “Making Waste: Unearthing the Metaphors, Values, and Temporalities of Product Design and its Criticism,” Environmental Humanities Centre, VU University, Amsterdam, 2017
• “The Exploded Design Canon: Open Source Design Criticism in the 21st century,” Dutch Design History Symposium, 2016
• “Exploding Footnotes: Design Research Made Visible,” University of the Arts, London, 2016
• Keynote Speaker, Masters Design Education, OBK Summit, Breda, Netherlands, 2015
• “Graphic Design Research,” Design Research Conference, Falmouth University, 2015
• “Future of Design Education,” State University of North Dakota, 2015
• “All Possible Futures: Critical Graphic Design,” California Institute of the Arts, 2014
• “Writers, Politics, Power, Class and Cash,” “Graphic Design, Giving Form to History,” conference, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2014
• Design Criticism Symposium, Columbia University, 2014
• Panellist, “The Aspen Complex,” Artists Space, NYC, 2012
• Interview with Khoi Vinh, WebVisions Conference, NYC, 2012
• Panellist, AIGA NY/Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, NYC, 2012
• Panellist, America Society of Journalists and Authors Conference, 2012
• Speaker, “Writing Criticism Now,” Syracuse University School of Architecture, 2012
• Panellist, Design Thinking panel, for film about Design Thinking, 2012
• Speaker, 2011 Design Thinking Lecture, AIGA Chicago, 2011
• Panellist, Print magazine discussion on collaboration, 2011
• Speaker, Museum of Modern Art QT Series, NYC, 2010
• Speaker, ICOGRADA Conference, Beijing, 2009
• Breakout session speaker, AIGA National Design Conference, Denver, 2007

• Curator and Host, SVA MFA Design Criticism lecture series, NYC, 2008-2015
• Curator and Host, SVA MFA Design Criticism conferences, NYC, 2008-2015;
• Moderator, Core 77 “State of Design” panel, 2013
• Speaker and moderator, “Blunt: Graphic Design Criticism Now,” AIGA, 2013
• Moderator, “Learning from Experience,” Designers & Books Fair, NYC, 2012
• Moderator, “Outward Bound: Publishing as Cultural Platform,” Architecture Publishing Summit, Van Alen Institute, NYC, 2012
• Session curator and moderator, AIGA National Design Conference, 2011
• Moderator, “Abstract: The Future of Design in Media” conference, 2011
• Moderator and Keynote, “Synapse: Tasmeem Doha Conference,” Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar, 2011
• Moderator, “State of Design Criticism,” College Art Association Conference, New York, 2011
• Moderator, AIGA Educators Conference, North Carolina State University, 2010
• Panel Moderator, Design History Society Conference, University of Hertfordshire, 2009
• Moderator, “AIGA NY Fresh Dialogue,” 2009; and AIGA NY Conversation between Wim Crouwel and Massimo Vignelli, 2007
• Co-chair and Host, “Obsession” + “Customization” AIGA NY Small Talks, 2006-2007
• Moderator, “Schools of Thoughts 3,” AIGA educators conference, Los Angeles, 2007
• Guest Program Director, “Being Here: Locality and Craft in Graphic Design,” 2004
• Program Director, “Voice: AIGA National Design Conference 2002,” Washington, D.C., (with 120 speakers and 100+ creative/production team)
• Co-Program Director, (with Steven Heller) “Looking Closer: AIGA Conference on Design History & Criticism,” 2001


• Sifting the Trash: A History of Design Criticism, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Spring 2017) (BOOK)

• “I Can’t Talk to You If You Say That: An Ideological Collision at The International Design Conference at Aspen, 1970,” Design & Culture, v. 1, issue 1, Berg, 2009

• “The Evolution of a New Televisual Language: The Sets, Title Sequences and Consumers of Ready Steady Go! 1963–1966,” Popular Design and Entertainment, Christopher Frayling and Emily King (eds.), (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009)

• 25 entries for the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)

• “The Post-it Note” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover,” Iconic Designs, ed. Grace Lees-Maffei, (London: Berg/Bloomsbury, 2014)
• “Trawling the Trash: Design’s Critical Engagements with Waste,” Workshop: Waste between the 19th and the 21st century: the price of modernity or the sign of a misdirected development?, Workshop, Center for the History of Global Development, Shanghai University, October, 2018
• “Design for Self-destruction, De-activation, and Accelerated Decomposition,” Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam, 2017

• “Sifting the Trash,” “How we live, and How we might live: Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism,” Design History Society Conference, San Francisco, 2015

• “I can’t talk to you if you say that: An ideological collision at the International Design Conference at Aspen, 1970,” Design Activism and Social Change, Design History Society Conference, Barcelona, 2011


Grants and awards

Graham Foundation Grant Recipient, 2015
Design History Society Writing Award Winner, 2018
Nominated for “Design Mind,” National Design Awards, 2009
Recipient, Surface Magazine Avant Guardian Award, 2008


design history, design criticism, design and time, design and ecology, design research, environmental humanities, design and sustainability, design theory, design studies, writing and publishing, alternative media, new media, English literature, cultural studies, design education, media studies, museum studies, amateur criticism, research-as-practice, graphic design, typography, intersections between literature and design, waste, trash, circular economies, deep futures


Senior University Lecturer

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Academie der Kunsten

Work address

P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden


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