American Design in the 20th Century

Online course

+44 (0)20 7942 2000

This course examines those most compelling and contradictory features of twentieth century American design, its practicality and its extravagance, both reflecting the national traditions of self-improvement and self-expression.

Learn from our world-class experts wherever you are, whenever suits you: watch lectures live or view the recording later in your own time. You can experience the full breadth and depth of the V&A's collections with 12 hours of study over 6 weeks. Learn at your own pace: lecture recordings and study materials, lecture notes, copies of the presentations, and additional study materials are available in our secure Microsoft Teams environment for 6 weeks after the course ends, so you'll never miss a thing. And finally, join the conversation: share your perspective with your fellow students, and support each other in your further enquiries outside of class time.

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course photo
Portrait of Course Leader Greg Votolato

Course Leader
Greg Votolato

Professor Greg Votolato is an architect, curator, teacher and writer on design, technology and culture. He is a course leader and visiting lecturer in the Victoria & Albert Museum Academy specialising in architecture and design. His publications include 'American Design in the Twentieth Century'; 'Transport Design, A Travel History; Ship; Car' '

The standard has been so high and they've all been immensely informative and enjoyable. Previous V&A Academy Online Course Attendee

Course overview

During the twentieth century the most compelling and contradictory features of American design were its classless practicality and its shameless appeal to status and desire. The aggressive, sensuous contours and colours of a Corvette Stingray sports car or a Fender Stratocaster guitar are as typically American as the mechanistic visual austerity of a Kryptonite bicycle lock or a Zippo lighter. In this course we will examine many such objects, both familiar and obscure, mass manufactured or uniquely hand-made. But this is more than a catalogue of classic objects. We will also consider the intricate story of how design evolved as a professional practice in the service of commerce and as a leisure activity reflecting the national traditions of self-improvement and self-expression. These talks will show how design in the affluent culture of North America was as much about personalising the material world as it was about the performance and appearance of industrially manufactured goods. Investigating homes, clothing, transport vehicles and much more will reveal how design functioned in the everyday lives of the whole population during that period often called ‘the American century'.


V&A Academy Online. A learning environment you can trust.

V&A Academy Online courses are built using the latest Microsoft software. Tune in to expert lectures live, or catch up later on demand. Download handouts and presentations. Join the discussion in a secure, closed class environment, wherever you are.

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Online course: American Design in the 20th Century

9 January 2024 - 13 February 2024


Call to book +44 (0)20 7942 2000

Need help enrolling? Talk to the admissions team:

+44 (0)20 7942 2000

Open 10.00 - 13.00, Monday to Sunday (closed 24-26 December)

Header image: Frank Lloyd Wright, Kaufmann Office, 1935-37