Collage of designed objects

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Wednesdays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: January to March
  • Tutor: David McKinstry
  • Fees from £120 to £205
  • Imperial College Attendance Certificate (T&Cs apply)
  • Book from 23 November
Booking link

History of Design is the study of the things around us that we use almost every moment of every day. From the clothes we wear, to the buildings we live and work in; from the vehicles we use to get around, to the phones in our pockets. In fact almost everything we use in daily life is in some sense designed, much of it by people we call designers.

But the history of design is also about the changes to designed objects over time, and how those changes reflect the different attitudes of different periods. On this course we are going on a fascinating journey which will allow us to explore some of the great historical and contemporary names in design, some of the great objects of design, and the relationship between designers and designed objects and society at different periods of time.

The course will start in the early nineteenth century and move forwards in time to the present day. In it we will focus on four principle areas:

  • an historical survey of design periods and styles from the early 1800s to the present day
  • ideas as to what people believed was good and bad design at different periods and the ideas that underpinned underpinned those beliefs
  • key works of design by key designers over the historical period covered, and their relationship to the principles in wider movements
  • The institutions for the teaching, promotion, display and sale of design.

The course is aimed at complete beginners, and so no previous knowledge of art or design history or practice is necessary. It is also be suitable for those who have some background in art and design history or practice.

Online Access to Course

This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.

Attendance Certificate

Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.

Course Information

Course Programme

Provisional Programme (may be subject to change)

  1. The Great Exhibition to Pugin and Morris (1851-1880)
  2. The Aesthetic Movement to Art Nouveau (1880-1910)
  3. World Fairs to World Wars; Lutens to Loos (1900- 1920)
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright to the Bauhaus; International Modernism in an age of Nationalism (1914-1933)
  5. Art Deco to Utility; the masks of Modernism (1924-1950)
  6. Festival of Britain to Pop; consuming consumerism (1951-1970)
  7. Béton Brut to Postmodernism (1960-1980)
  8. The New Vernacular, High-tech and Classical Revival; technology and its aftermaths (1970-1990)
  9. The Right to Buy; the flat-pack revolution (1979-1999)
  10. Designing Today: ecology, 'retro' and digital (2000-today)

Additional Reading

There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text, but if you would like to read more on the subject we suggest:

Recommended Reading


  • Design Studies: a Reader by Hazel Clark
  • Objects of desire: design and society since 1750 by Adrian Forty
  • Design as Politics by Tony Fry
  • A Century of Design: Design Pioneers of the 20th Century by Penny Sparke
  • The Design History Reader by Grace Lees-Maffei
  • Material culture and mass consumption by Daniel Miller
  • Twentieth century Designby Jonathan Woodham


  • Regency Design by John Morley
  • Victorian Architecture by Robert Furneaux Jordan
  • Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement Martin Ellis, Timothy Barringer and Victoria Osborne
  • Richard Norman Shaw by Andrew Saint
  • Lubetkin by John Allan
  • Bauhaus by Magdelena Droste
  • Redbrick by William Whyte
  • Architecture and the Welfare State by Mark Swenarton, Tom Avermaete, Dirk van den Heuvel 
  • Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970 by David Crowley and Jane Pavitt
  • New Lives, New Landscapes by Nan Fairbrother
  • Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-90 by Glen Adamson and Jane Pavitt (Eds)


  • The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin
  • Ornament and Crime by Adolf Loos
  • Towards an Architecture by Corbusier
  • Pillar to Post, Here of all Places and Homes Sweet Homesby Osbert Lancaster
  • From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe
  • Morality and Architecture by David Watkin
  • How to Love Brutalism by John Grindrod

Recommended visiting in and around London


  • V&A collections
  • 10 Willow Road
  • St Pancras Railway Station
  • Palace of Westminster
  • The Geffrye Museum
  • Emery Walker House
  • The Red House
  • Jubilee Line stations at Westminster and Canary Wharf
  • Leighton House
  • 18 Stafford Terrace

General perambulations

  • Canary Wharf for high-tech, postmodern and neo-modern
  • All of the Square Mile for one of the world’s best collection of buildings 1800-present
  • Barbican Centre, the Golden Lane Estate, the Alton Estate, the Southbank for brutalism and Scandinavian modernism
  • Regents Park for Regency neo-classicism
  • Pimlico and Bayswater for mid-19th century Italianate
  • Whitehall for Elizabethan revival, Beaux Arts, and postmodern.
  • Richmond Riverside for 1980s classical revival
  • Lillington Gardens, Pimlico for 1970s vernacular revival
  • Duchy of Cornwall Estate, Kennington for Edwardian neo-Georgian
  • Spa Green Estate, Clerkenwell for international modernism

Seeing private collections

The public showrooms of the major west end auction houses often have pre-auction displays of objects by influential designers of c.1800-present (look out for sales of jewellery, ceramics, furniture, textiles). Often the only time to see (for free) important objects while they are between private collections.

Your Tutor

McKinstry photoDavid McKinstry is a renowned specialist in design history, formerly secretary to the Georgian Society and adviser to London local government on development applications for historical buildings in the city.


Course Delivery: Live Online Taught courses

All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

All times stated are British Standard Time.

To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.

Microsoft Teams

This course will use Teams as its online delivery method. Teams is easy to use. You will need to log into your existing Teams account or, alternatively, please create a free account hereNear the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a Teams web link that will allow you to access the course. All you need do is click on the course link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class. Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

All courses lasting two hours have a 10-minute break in the middle. For one-hour courses there is no break.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 20  10  £205
All fee rates quoted are for the whole course. Please note there is no early-bird discount available for the January intake courses

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email before completing the online enrolment form.

Associate Rate

  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • South London Botanical Institute Members
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the Kennel Club

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
 20  10 n/a w/c 18 Jan - w/e 27 Mar 2021 (10 weeks)* n/a n/a
* This is a 1-term course

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 23 November 2020

Enrolment & payment are through the Imperial College eStore. Please use above booking link noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on this page and your applicable category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details before your course choice and applicant details are queried on an in-built questionnnaire which completes the process
  • The following email notifications will be sent
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • Confirms your payment, date of payment and order number
  • Should not be treated as a course-enrolment receipt and therefore does not show your course however these details are sent to us via the system
2. Enrolment confirmation Sent in due course but likely not before the end of September. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Confirms your course choice
  • Shows the programme your course is part of as well as the term dates
  • Confirms your course' day of the week & time
3. Programme information Usually sent Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains further course details incl. classroom location and teacher contact information
  • Provides further general programme details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

  • Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the tutor, Dr David McKinstry, at
  • Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator,

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.