Design Objects and the Museum; the book

Cover DOATM Bloomsbury

Design Objects and the Museum
Edited by Liz Farrelly and Joanna Weddell
Bloomsbury Academic, 2016

Contributors: Leah Armstrong, Nicola Ashmore, Sue Breakell, Helen Charman, Jason Cleverly, Liz Farrelly, Guy Julier, Marianne Lamonaca, Virginia Lucarelli, Magha Rajguru, Gillian Russell, Jana Scholze, Nicola Stylianou, Deborah Sugg Ryan, Damon Taylor, Joanna Weddell, Gareth Williams, Tom Wilson, Ness Wood, Jonathan Woodham

Having worked in publishing – commissioning, editing and writing – it was interesting to see how the process of co-editing a book of academic papers for a peer-reviewed press differs from creating visual books for mainstream publishers. Why? Because myself and a colleague, Joanna Weddell, a fellow AHRC CDA candidate at University of Brighton, have completed just such a “tome” for Bloomsbury Academic.

Through a series of acquisitions Bloomsbury Academic has become one of the largest academic publishers worldwide, putting out more than 1,000 titles annually. And while the visual publishing mainstream has struggled to reinvent itself in the face of digitally-produced, niche-marketed, boutique publications, as well as crowd-sourced titles that side-step the need for a publisher altogether, academic presses are thriving alongside a worldwide boom in higher education, exemplified by the development of new courses and multi-disciplinary areas of study

Producing Design Objects and the Museum (DOATM) was a more drawn out process than expected as deadlines shifted and as we were ready to roll Bloomsbury Academic reconfigured its business model, choosing to release titles simultaneously in the UK and US. The UK publishing (pub.) date usually predates the US “drop”, requiring two rounds of marketing. Most books are printed in Asia, this one was printed in India (most books I’ve worked on have been made in China), and to coordinate publication the original date was delayed by three months, the time it takes for a container ship to cross the ocean after off-loading pallets of books at a UK port.

Going back to the beginning, DOATM began as a college conversation. Jo suggested we propose a session for the 39th Association of Art Historian’s (AAH) annual conference, to be held at University of Reading in April 2013. The conference blurb promised to, “represent the interests of an expansive art-historical community by covering all branches of its discipline(s), including the history of art, architecture, photography, design, visual culture and curation…It will also showcase a variety of art-historical approaches, from the theoretical to the object-based, and will highlight debates about the future of the discipline(s)”. As we’re both interested in design objects and cultural institutions, particularly museums, Jo thought there was room for us within such a cross-disciplinary arena.

Jo is researching the V&A’s Circulation Department, Circ for short, which toured design objects and exhibitions to regional museums and art colleges, as explained in a paper she wrote for the V&A Online Journal, here. She also teaches Art History and is a long-time member of the AAH, whereas although I studied Art History my professional allegiance is to the Design History Society (DHS), even assisting Paul Greenhalgh to organise an annual conference at the V&A in 1990. See the work of Dr. Joanne Gooding for explanation of the schism that split art and design historians into two organisations. Thinking that this conference would be an opportunity to “storm the barricades”, I agreed with Jo that we should bring our design objects and interest in museums to an audience of art historians, which on the day included a fair few design historians too.

Having our session proposal accepted was a surprise! Pooling our network of contacts, with Jo concentrating on V&A colleagues, and with the call for papers distributed via the AAH newsletter and website, we received more abstracts than we could accommodate and honed our selection into three groups of 20-minute papers with discussion, a structure we retained in the book. The session was exciting, attendance was good throughout the day and the Q&A was lively and informative; for a review, see here.

During the conference, Rebecca Barden, Senior Commissioning Editor for Design at Bloomsbury Academic, approached us with a request to submit a book proposal based on our session. After recovering from the compliment, we discovered that the proposal format required us to do a lot more work, but it was comparable to the “spec sheet” that I would produce for an illustrated book at the “concept stage”, aka, an idea on paper. The difference is that an academic asked to propose a book is required to supply a mass of information, which is then used to “sell” the idea of the book within the company, and in my previous experience that part of the process was completed in-house. We were required to survey the relevant academic discipline(s), to discern a “need” for this book and demonstrate that our proposed title would find an audience within higher education; we also listed competing titles and pinpointed our book’s “USP”. I can understand why academic publishers ask prospective authors to do this, after all, they are experts in their field and therefore can suggest the appropriate context and audience for their work.

We received positive feedback from our Commissioning Editor and the peer-reviewers who are asked to comment on new book ideas, with the proviso that we increase the number of contributors and widen the global reach. We were happy to comply as time constraints within the conference session had limited our selection. And while Design History as a discipline is focusing on “developing the subject globally”, see University of Brighton’s Internationalising Design History initiative, including global content makes a book relevant to a wider audience of learners. Such a strategy also echoes a prerequisite of visual publishing where international content is thought to make a book more appealing to overseas readers and possibly stimulate a co-publishing deal.

So we extended our search for papers, and while I won’t go into detail about the content as it is well presented on the publishers website, I will mention that we were keen to have an historical as well as geographical spread, to include content that examined different types of institutions, the museum and beyond, as well as archival practice, museology, curating, commissioning, exhibition design, cultural policy and new technology. After resubmitting the extended proposal, which was accepted, we contacted contributors and negotiated a deadline. The process of acquiring and clearing images proved complex and time consuming but the schedule also gave us time to communicate with contributors, and enabled them to update and extend their papers.

Both Jo and myself edited the papers, combining our suggestions into feedback that we shared with our contributors; we also helped them organise their images; wrote an Introduction and summing up; and finally submitted all the material via a shared DropBox, which had been set up by the editorial assistant. That made for smooth transactions but eradicated the personal contact that I remember as part to the publishing process, the meetings, “lunches” and “hand over”. The formal round of peer-reviewing came next with our extended content favourably commented upon. Finalising the cover design and choosing the layout template represented the moment when “copy” became “galley and layout”, and the book assumed its own identity. Then the publisher handed the project to an editorial team – editor, sub-editor, proof reader and indexer – contracted on a project by project basis, in effect subcontractors who would hone and check text and images. Jo and I were “virtually” introduced and asked to read and comment on two rounds of proofs sent as PDFs. Next, the trans-Atlantic marketing team came on board, and we completed extensive questionnaires about ourselves, our research and suggested journals that might review the book.

Receiving an advance copy in the post was a treat, but as our contributors don’t receive their gratis copies until closer to publication, I’ve yet to parade the book in public (bar this). Marking the publication, and keeping the conversation going would be a bonus, but as Jo and I are busy with doctorates we may have to hold that thought…

Co-editing a book while working on a doctorate thesis seems like a good way to increase academic profile, and as an editor you enjoy more control over the process than when contributing an article to an academic, peer-reviewed journal, but it is a lot of work and took over (at least) a summer of my research schedule. Having worked as an editor, albeit in a different branch of publishing, I was keen to make the project run as smoothly as possible for our contributors and publisher. And, although at times it seemed drawn out and convoluted, all in all, the personnel and systems employed by Bloomsbury Academic meant that the process was efficient to the point of painless, bar a few hiccups with paperwork (image clearance of course). So, thank you, especially, Jo.

Order the hardback, here. Also available as a paperback, an EPUB eBook and a pdf eBook; take your pick, here.