Object Biographies as a method for Communication Design students to construct knowledge in the Design Studies classroom



Media & Communications Design


  • object biography, communication design, epistemology, design studies, decolonisation, design education


This paper reports on the use of object biography writing as a method for Communication Design students to construct knowledge in the Design Studies classroom. Students used a guideline constructed around the stages of the birth, life and death of an object to write an object biography on a mass-manufactured object of their own choice with a focus on how the object is used by individuals to construct and express gender identity.

The method, process and outcome of the project is discussed and an evaluation offered on whether object biography writing can be considered as a form of decolonised design education. It is argued that while the writing of object biographies is relevant to the objective of decolonising design education, the project as reported here can also be criticized on a number of fronts. This includes the requirements that the research be presented in the form of a research paper, that students select a mass-manufactured object and work from a real object, the origins of object biography as a methodology in social anthropology, and the selection of prescribed readings. To align the project closer to decolonising imperatives it is recommended that improvements and adjustments are made with regard to the presentation format, the requirements for the selection of the object and the list of prescribed readings.

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