We have launched a new website and are reviewing this page. Find out more
Open daily 10.00 to 17.45 Admission free Menu

Design and Design History Study Guide

Embroidery design, pencil and watercolour by Mary (May) Morris, UK, about 1885. Museum no. E.50-1940

Embroidery design, pencil and watercolour by Mary (May) Morris (1862–1938), UK, about 1885. Museum no. E.50-1940

This guide describes a selection of resources and standard reference works useful for finding information on design and design history. All pressmarks for reference works refer to copies held in the National Art Library unless otherwise stated. Many of the major published secondary resources described, both printed and electronic, are also likely to be available in academic and public libraries that hold art and design collections. This guide also provides information on finding original design drawings in the V&A collections.

Finding design drawings in the V&A collections

The V&A houses an extensive collection of design drawings, including drawings for architecture and interiors, sculpture and the applied and industrial arts, including ceramics, fashion, furniture, textiles and wallpaper. See the Design Collections for more information. These can be viewed in the Prints & Drawings Study Room (P&D Study Room).

The Catalogues of the Prints, Drawings Paintings & Photographs Collections page provides a general overview of, and online access to, the Study Room catalogues up to 1986 for the collections of prints, drawings, paintings and photographs and designs at the V&A. To search for design drawings, click on the Search the Study Rooms Catalogue button and then choose Global Search to search all P&D Study Room catalogues simultaneously. It is possible to search by artist/designer, place or subject.

Tip: For best results enter an asterisk before and after an artist's surname, e.g. *Morris*.

Tip: Subject headings used in this catalogue are taken from: A subject index for the visual arts, by Elizabeth Glass (London: HMSO, 1969) and are case sensitive.

A selection of images of designs (as well as other objects) held in the V&A collections can be found on the V&A website Search the collections. You can search by the name of a particular designer. Clicking the Advanced search option and entering the term 'design' in the object type field is a useful way to find examples of original design drawings. This screen also allows you to combine terms together to narrow your search.

Original design drawings can also be found in the archival collections of the Archive of Art and Design (AAD).

Published catalogues of design drawings in the V&A collections

  • Lambert, Susan, ed., Pattern and design: designs for the decorative arts, 1480–1980 with an index to designers' drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: The Museum, 1983. Pressmark: 509.E.98
    Catalogue of an exhibition of drawn and printed designs held in the V&A Collections; includes an index to designers' drawings covering the following fields: architecture, ceramics, fans, furniture, gardens, interior design, jewellery, metalwork, ornamental designs, sculpture, stained glass, textiles (including dress), theatre (including costume), transport.
  • Leslie, Fiona, Designs for 20th-century interiors. London: V&A Publications, 2000. Pressmark: 603.AA.2127
    Based on the collection of 20th-century designs for interiors in the V&A collections, including sketches, drawings and CAD (Computer Aided Design) printouts for products and interiors.
  • Lomas, Elizabeth, Guide to the Archive of Art and Design. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2001. Pressmark: Enquiry Desk Ref 026.7 LOM
    Guide to the archives of British designers of the 20th century held in the Archive of Art & Design at the V&A.
  • Newton, Charles, Victorian designs for the home. London: V&A Publications, 1999. Pressmark: NC.99.1711
    Catalogue with illustrations of a selection of designs for the home from the Victorian period drawn from the collections of the V&A. With chapters on styles including Gothic revival, Japonisme, Arts and Crafts and the beginnings of Art Nouveau.

General reference works

Dictionaries and encyclopedias
  • Turner, Jane, ed., The dictionary of art. New York: Grove, 1996. Pressmark: REF 703 DIC
    Comprising 33 volumes of articles by experts, design is extensively covered. Includes two overview articles, 'Design' by Penny Sparke on the history and concept of design in Western Europe and the USA since 1800, and 'Industrial design' by Pat Kirkham on design process applied to goods produced by machine before 1850 up to post World War II. Both articles include bibliographies for further reading.
  • Byars, Mel, The Design Encyclopedia. [New ed.] London: Lawrence King, 2004. Pressmark: REF 745.444 BYA
    Contains around 4000 entries for designers, styles and materials with 700 illustrations, many from the Museum of Modern Art, New York collections. Entries usefully include bibliographical references.
  • Jervis, Simon, The Penguin dictionary of design and designers. London: Allen Lane, 1984. Pressmark: REF 745.403 JER
    Historical dictionary including 'pre-modern' design covering the period 1450 to the present day with an emphasis on ceramics, furniture, glass, interior decoration, metalwork, ornament and textiles. Includes many artists and architects.
  • Julier, Guy, The Thames and Hudson encyclopedia of 20th-century design and designers. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. Pressmark: REF 745.4442 JUL
    Illustrated dictionary of 20th-century design, including industrial, graphic, interior design and architecture, some entries with bibliographies for further reading.
  • Walker, John A., Glossary of art, architecture and design since 1945. 3rd ed. London: Library Association, 1992. REF 703 WAL
    A glossary of contemporary terms describing movements, styles, groups and organisations in the art, architecture and design fields, each entry with further reading suggestions.
  • Woodham, Jonathan M., A dictionary of modern design. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pressmark: 602.AE.1766
    Recent dictionary with over 2000 entries on designers, manufacturers, styles and movements in the areas of ceramics, furniture, graphics, industrial design, interiors and fashion over the last 150 years, with an international focus.
Other works
  • Coulson, Anthony J., A bibliography of design in Britain 1851–1970. London: Design Council, 1979. Pressmark: REF 745.44941 COU
    This ground-breaking bibliography of sources for the study of design in Britain remains an important source, covering books, journal articles and some archival sources. Includes a useful 'Table of Important dates' and a section on 'Important designers'.
  • Jagger, Janet, comp. and Towe, Roger, Designers index international : compiled at Leicester Polytechnic Library. London: Bowker Saur, 1991. 3 vols. Indexes periodical articles and also monographs, with extensive coverage of early 20th-century material. Vol. 3 includes indexes to design categories and countries.
  • Walker, John A., Design history and the history of design. London: Pluto, 1989. Pressmark: A.119.459
    Textbook providing an introduction to methodologies of design history research.

Finding information on designers

Many designers are listed in the standard international dictionaries of artists such as Thieme-Becker and Bénézit, for an extensive list of these, see the Artists Study Guide. Information can also often be found on designers in journal articles. Information on finding these is given in the section Finding journal articles on design and designers below. There are also a number of dictionaries and bibliographies of designers:

  • Doumato, Lamia, Architecture and women: a bibliography documenting women architects, landscape architects, designers, architectural critics and writers and women in related fields working in the United States. New York: Garland, 1988. Pressmark: REF 720.82 DOU
    A bibliography mainly of women architects but including some designers who worked in the USA.
  • Dormer, Peter, The illustrated dictionary of 20th-century designers. London: Headline, 1991. Pressmark: REF 745.4442 ILL
    Biographies to 400 key designers of the 20th century in the areas of industrial design, furniture, graphics, fashion, architecture, textiles and applied art.
  • McCracken, Penny, Women artists and designers in Europe since 1800: an annotated bibliography. (2 vols.) London: G.K. Hall, 1998. Pressmark: REF 709.2082
    An extensive and annotated bibliography of published sources on women artists and designers. Vol. 1 covers the fields of bookbinding, ceramics, fashion, garden design, glass, stained glass, interior design, furniture, lighting, metalwork and textiles.
  • Pendergast, Sara, ed. Contemporary designers. 3rd ed. Detroit: St James Press, 1997. Pressmark: REF 745.4442 CON
    Over 600 entries covering practitioners in all the design-related fields from architecture to product design.


The National Art Library holds an extensive collection of journals in all areas of design, including specific areas of design, e.g. graphic design, interior design, etc. Search the NAL online catalogue under the most relevant subject heading, e.g. Design -- Periodicals, Interior decoration -- Periodicals, Graphic design -- Periodicals for a full list of titles held.

Some key journals in contemporary design and design history include the following:

  • Blueprint (1983–); PP.400.W 1
  • Creative Review (1980–) PP.22.H
  • Design (London) (1948–1999); PP.26.G
  • Design Issues (1984–); PP.4.H
  • Design Studies (1979–) PP.104.R
  • Design Week (1986-) PP.14.J
  • I-D: Magazine of International Design (1984–); PP.44.S
  • Journal of Design History (1988–); PP.2.O

Finding journal articles on design and designers

To find journal articles, book chapters, conference papers and newspaper articles on design and designers, search the relevant online databases. The majority of these are available in the NAL reading rooms.

  • Design and Applied Arts Index (DAAI) (1973–)
    This is the best source for finding articles on design and designers. It provides references from more than 500 design and craft journals and newspapers with data on over 50,000 designers, craftspeople, studios and workshops. The majority of indexed articles are post 1987. The retrospective database of DAAI, Design Abstracts Retrospective (DAR) abstracts over 100 European design journals from 1903–1986. Subscriptions can also include access to Design ProFILES, the largest collection of profiles of designers and design organisations of its kind. The online version of DAAI is available from computers in the NAL reading rooms.
  • Art Index (1929–)
    This is another good source for articles on design, providing abstracts of articles published in journals world-wide. The electronic version is divided into two parts: Art Index which covers 1984 to the present, with full-text coverage for selected journals beginning in 1997, including some design journals, and Art Index Retrospective covering 1929 to1984.
  • ARTbibliographies Modern (1974–)
    Provides full abstracts of journal articles, books, essays, exhibition catalogues, and reviews on all forms of modern and contemporary art from the late 19th century onwards, with an emphasis on lesser-known artists. Includes design and interior decoration in its subject coverage.
  • Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals
    Indexes over 1000 periodicals published worldwide and is a good source for articles on interior design.
  • Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA) (1990–)
    Covers visual arts in all media including European art from late Antiquity to the present. Coverage includes the decorative and applied arts, including industrial design. The electronic version includes access to its predecessor indexes RILA and RAA.

Note: When you have found a useful reference you will need to check the NAL online catalogue to see whether we hold the particular journal title and issue required.

Finding journal articles

There are numerous discussion lists available on JISCmail in the field of art & design. The 'Design studies' category includes:

Some useful weblinks can be found in the Design Research Links page.

V&A Innovative Leadership Programme

The V&A Innovative Leadership Programme is aimed at managers working in the arts & creative industries looking to develop new skills, insight and opportunity. Applications are now open for the next course.

Apply now