Dr Catharine Rossi

School: School of Critical Studies and Creative Industries
Position: Senior Lecturer in Design History


I am a design historian interested in researching, writing, talking and teaching about design past and present for a wide range of audiences. I have a keen interest in craft: In 2011 I completed an AHRC CDA entitled 'Modern Craft: History, Theory and Practice' in the RCA/V&A History of Design Department, which re-examined post-war Italian design through the concept of craft. I developed this research into Crafting Design in Italy: from post-war to postmodernism (MUP, 2015).

I joined Kingston University in 2013. Previously I was a Context Lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art. I have been a visiting lecturer in the UK and abroad, including at the University of Brighton and Sotheby's Institute of Art.

I enjoy communicating ideas about design in a range of media. In 2014 I curated 'Space Electronic: Then and Now' an installation for the Venice Architecture Biennale, which examined the role of disco in Radical Design and is part of my interest in political design practices. I have contributed to exhibitions including Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970 – 1990 at the V&A (2011). In addition to writing for academic journals such as the Journal of Design History and The Journal of Modern Craft, I contribute to magazines including Crafts, Disegno and Domus.

Related links

Research expertise

Over the last few years I have developed two main research areas. The first concerns design and its relationship to craft. I am particularly interested in how this theme relates to Italy, a nation renowned for its craft tradition. Completed in 2011, my PhD examined the craft's role in Italy's celebrated design history from 1945 to the 1980s. I conceived craft as a method of manufacture, a set of materials, disciplines and skills and ideas that designers turned to. I have since developed this craft-based approach to explore craft's fashionability today more broadly, and am interested in what this means for contemporary design amidst continuing technological advance.

My second main area of research has been concerned with what is variously called radical, critical, or otherwise politically and socially engaged design – both in relation to the past, specifically 1970s Italy, and the present. As with my interest in craft, I have explored this research in a number of conference papers and publications, always with the aim of doing so in a way that is accessible and relevant to those in and outside of the academic and design communities. This interest in politically engaged and socially responsible practice is also what underpins my practice as a design historian. I am always interested to find ways to collaborate with others to develop research projects.

Selected Key research outputs:

Crafting Design in Italy: From-Postwar to Postmodernism (Manchester: MUP, 2015)

Space Electronic: Then and Now installation, 2014 14th Venice Architecture Biennale.

The Italian Radical Avant-Garde, ed. Alex Coles and C. Rossi (Berlin: Sternberg, 2013)

'Bricolage, Hybridity, Circularity: Crafting Production Strategies in Critical and Conceptual Design', Design and Culture, vol. 5, issue 1, March 2013.

Teaching areas & responsibilities

Co-Course Director, BA Art & Design History: Theory and Practice
Module Leader for BA and MA Art & Design History
Module Leader for Critical and Historical Studies (Design School)
PhD supervision
FADA Ethics Committee

Professional activity

  • 2015 - presentExternal Examiner, BA Product Design, Central Saint Martins
  • 2015Nominator, Design Museum Design of the Year
  • 2014Nominator, Design Museum Design of the Year
  • 2014 - presentMember of Comitato Scientifico, Associazione Italiana Storici del Design
  • 2013 - presentPeter Dormer Committee member
  • 2011 - 2015Research Grant Officer, Design History Society
  • 2009 - 2010Co-founder of 'Design in Dialogues' postgraduate seminar series, RCA
  • 2008 - 2011Student Officer, Design History Society
  • 2005Co-founder of Post Graduate Design History Society (PDHS), Brighton University

Educational and professional qualifications

  • 2011PhD, History of Design Royal College of Art/V&A Museum
  • 2006MA, Design History and Material Culture University of Brighton
  • 2005BA(Hons) Italian and Design University College London

Conferences & events

Expert Visit, IASPIS, Swedish Arts Grants Committee's International Programme, September 2014.

Tomorrow Today: Design, Fiction and Social Responsibility, ICA, June 2015. Co-convened with Portia Ungley.
Post-Craft, ICA, May 2015. Co-convened with Alex Coles.
The Languages of Making, Kingston University, February 2014.
Experimental Media: Design and Film in the 1960s and 1970s, RCA, May 2013. Co-convened with Professors David Crowley and Jane Pavitt.
Drawing and Making: The Elements of Creativity, Edinburgh College of Art, December 2012. Co-convened with Susan Cross, Film available online.
Designing Alternatives: A Symposium of Contemporary Radical Practice, ECA, June 2012. Co-convened with Dr Sonia Matos. Digital publication forthcoming.
Ideas of the Handmade: Histories and Theories of Making, ECA, April 2012. Co-convened with Dr Juliette MacDonald. Digital publication available.
'From Kitsch to Kitsch: Issues of Luxury in Design and Craft in 1960s Italy', IOTA Seminar Series, University of Brighton, March 2010.
Dialogues in Design talks series, RCA, co-convened with fellow RCA PhD candidates, 2008 - 2009

Symposia and Conference Participant:
Craft Think Tank, Centre for Craft, Creativity and Design, North Carolina, 2014.
'Whatever Happened to the Avant-Garde', Mantownhuman Summer School, London, 2014.
'Utopian and Dystopian Domesticities: The Home on Film in 1970s Italian Radical Design', Domestic Imaginaries: Homes in Film, Literature and Popular Culture, Nottingham University, 2014.
'Paper Utopias: Image-Making in 1970s Italian Radical Architecture and Design', Association for Study of Modern Italy Annual Conference, 2013.
'Made in Italy 2.0: The Prominence of Craftsmanship in Contemporary Italian Furniture Design', Current Issues in Global Furniture, Bucks New University, 2013.
'Back to the Future: Craft Technologies and the Design Vanguard' Technocracy, Expertise and the Future, V&A, 2013.
'The Future in Making/Making in the Future', Wysing Art Centre, 2013.
'Handmade Politics: American Promotion of Italian Craft & Design', Society of Architectural Historians conference, Buffalo, 2013.
'Craft in the Skill/Deskill/Reskill Debates', CAA Conference, New York, 2013.
'The Thingness of Making: Attending to Production and the Appropriation of the Handmade in Contemporary Design Practice', CAA Conference, Los Angeles, February 2012.
Avant-garde in 

'Making Memphis: Encounters between Design and Craft in Italian Postmodernism', Design & Craft: A History of Convergences and Divergences, ICDHS, Brussels, 2010.
'"I Can Tell You Things You Won't Have Heard Anywhere": Uncovering the Relationship Between Design and Craft in Post-War Italy', Oral History Society, V&A, June 2010.
'Marble Marble Everywhere': Designing Luxury in 1960s Italy', In Pursuit of Luxury, University of Hertfordshire and RIBA, 2010.
'From Mari to Memphis: The Role of Prototypes in Italian Radical and Postmodern Design', Prototype: Craft in the Future Tense, Dundee, 2010.
'Gio Ponti's Superleggera Chair: Design and Craft in Post-War Italy, Furniture History Society Annual Symposium, 2010.
'Mediterranean Megaphone': Domus and the Promotion and Production of Design in Post -War Italy, 1951 – '54', Writing Design, DHS Conference, University of Hertfordshire, 2009.
'Designing Craft, Crafting Design: Encounters between Architects and Artisans in Post-War Italy' ASMI Postgraduate Conference, Italian Cultural Institute, Edinburgh, July 2009.
The 'Mediterranean Megaphone': Domus and the Promotion and Production of Design in Post -War Italy, 1951 – 1954' , The Media in Italy, ASMI conference, 2008.
'Conflicting Modernities: American Promotion of Post-War Italian Craft 1945-'53' Material Matters: PDHS conference, University of Brighton, June 2008
'Women and Design in Post-War Italy', Hidden Histories PDHS, Brighton, June 2007


Space Electronic: Then and Now installation, 2014 14th Venice Architecture Biennale.

Grants, funding and awards

  • 2016Awarded £62,000 from the AHRC for: China's Creative Communities: Making Value and The Value(s) of Making
  • 2014Association for the Study of Modern Italy, research grant for Space Electronic: Then and Now, Venice Architecture Biennale
  • 2012Furniture History Society, Tom Ingram Fund for SAH 2013 conference
  • 2012Design History Society, Day Seminar Series Funding
  • 2007AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, 'Modern Craft: Histories, Theories and Practice'

Research groups & programmes

Research supervision

Crafting Design in Italy: from post-war to postmodernism (Manchester University Press, 2015)
Space Electronic: Then and Now, Venice Architecture Biennale 2014 © Gilly Booth.