A still from the Design in a Nutshell Bauhaus video

The history of design in six short videos

The Open University sums up six key design movements in a cute new animated series

Are you a bit postmodern, or do you belong in the Bauhaus? This is the question that the Open University is posing, should anyone care to click on its Design In A Nutshell offering on the OpenLearn website. The OU hopes to inspire people into taking its design courses through half a dozen short animated films it’s made.



Each one is a snapshot of a key 20th century design style or movement, so we’ve got Gothic Revival, Arts and Crafts, Bauhaus, Modernism, American Industrial Design and Postmodernism.



The film’s academic adviser was Clive Hilton, an OU lecturer in design. His potted histories are not without wit, and take the viewer on an express journey through each genre. So Sir George Gilbert Scott’s churches are bigged up in Gothic Revival, William Morris is the star of Art and Crafts, Marcel Breuer’s Cantilevered Chair features in Modernism, American Industrial Design points to Norman Bel Geddes as the pioneer of utilitarian art, and in Postmodernism we hear about the Las Vegas strip, “a riot of styles, cultures and whimsical collage”. This last one seems the weakest, with the series’ narrator – is that or isn’t that Ewan McGregor? – struggling to pin down a definition. But we guess that’s Postmodernism for you.



At the end of each video the viewer is asked a teasing question, such as “Does American industrial design do it for you?” And as well as the option to find out about courses, one can take a multiple choice test to discover one’s design alter-ego.



Design in a Nutshell serves a purpose for the OU, though watching them back to back can be a wee bit grating, with repetition of the cartoon-like sound effects. And the series begs the question, were no women involved in any design over the last century? The only female to make it in, is blow-drying her hair in a poster ad for American Industrial Design. There’s a quick nod to the Eameses, but Ray isn’t mentioned by name. (And while we’re on the subject of names, only a total pedant would spot that an extra ‘e’ has snuck into Raymond Loewy’s surname). 


It's a great introduction to design but if, as we suspect, you might want to take this stuff at a more leisurely pace and at a decidedly deeper level check out our vast array of design-realated books and monographs in the store.