Bloomsbury Visual Arts - Bloomsbury Design Library Full Reviews

Bloomsbury Design Library Full Reviews

Design and Culture, March 2019

By Saraleah Fordyce 

The Bloomsbury Design Library is a digital collection that offers full access to the three-volume Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Victor Margolin’s two-volume World History of Design, and an array of other sources. The vast amount of information is organized by source type, with searchable content and suggestions for further reading. The database functions as an encyclopedia, and Bloomsbury promises that it will be updated twice a year with new articles, book chapters, and images. Schools can subscribe to it as they would to a standard database or journal, but The Bloomsbury Design Library is more curated than most databases and more expansive than a journal. It could be seen as Bloomsbury’s answer to Phaidon Design Classics, a three-volume encyclopedia set that is available in print or as an app. However, because The Bloomsbury Design Library integrates information from many different sources, it offers a wider variety of perspectives than any single publication could, no matter the number of volumes.

The Bloomsbury Design Library is not without precedent; it follows the publisher’s successful launch of the Berg Fashion Library, a similar database that combines Bloomsbury’s e-books and fashion encyclopedia with third-party resources and an image archive. Both digital libraries make available encyclopedia-style summaries, as well as the more nuanced and rigorous research of scholarly articles. Users can thus toggle between the formats, digging in deep when they choose without getting bogged down. If an article casually mentions a designer, a style, or an object without explanation, users can easily look up the unfamiliar topic without leaving the site and quickly receive a cursory overview.

The homepage, as of May 2018 (Figure 1), features a thematic and biographic focus, along with a clear list of five sources and categories to explore (World History of Design, Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Book Chapters, Designers, and Museum Collections). At the bottom of the page is a timeline with seven periods (Antiquity, Middle Ages, Early Modern, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, and Twenty-First Century) and a featured image for each – for example, the Middle Ages icon is a stained-glass window and the twentieth-century icon is a Gaudí building. Users can search the entire database for terms or names, browse through a chapter from Margolin’s World History, and find images and background information in the timeline. The encyclopedia’s alphabetized entries place “Adidas” alongside “Ad-hocism” and “Adler, Rose (1890–1959),” thus creating unexpected juxtapositions of time, place, and method. Each entry is only one or two paragraphs in length, but includes suggestions for further reading. It is rare to find such brevity in the prairie-like expanse of digital space, and – rather than being a drawback – it makes the site a usefully digestible source for students looking to quickly grasp a basic concept or match a reference to an image. The resource is designed to be accessible and spur further research – and unlike a massive print encyclopedia that students must go to a physical library to consult, the curious can thumb through these digital entries on tiny screens while waiting in line for a coffee. Also unlike print resources, the database can and will change over time. All of the information in this review refers to the state of the site in May 2018.

The collection of book chapters is useful but does consist of a seemingly arbitrary assortment. It includes selections from sixty-seven e-books, ranging from The John Heskett Reader edited by Clive Dilnot to Becoming Human by Design by Tony Fry (Figure 2) to Sara Kristofferson’s critical history Design by Ikea. Apart from the fact that all of these titles were originally published by Bloomsbury, the reasoning for their inclusion is unclear. It seems that the selection currently has more to do with rights than with presenting balanced content. With that said, the interface is excellent; users can download PDFs that cite the source on the first page, and on-screen reading shows continuous text documents with subtle markers for page breaks so that the layout is maintained regardless of the format that the user chooses (print or online).

The “Designers” section currently features biographies of just over one hundred notable designers. Each entry includes a few explanatory paragraphs (most of which are sourced from The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design), along with basic identifying information such as professional affiliations, education, dates, and themes. Most of the included designers are from Europe and North America, and of the current one hundred and five, only four are women. One danger of presenting a list like this is that it implies a comprehensive frame and serves to reinforce the hegemony of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Western males in the recorded history of design. Hopefully, as the collection is expanded, a wider and more diverse net will be cast across disciplines, genders, and ethnicities. Margolin’s World History of Design does a far better job at this than The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, even mining Bloomsbury’s own resources could begin to address this imbalance. The final section, “Museums,” also begs expansion. This section aims to provide users with high-resolution, downloadable images.

Currently the collection only includes objects from The Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, but already there are 500 pieces with basic information and high-resolution images available (Figure 3). The interface could be easier to use and, of course, it would be great to have access to more images. Bloomsbury is dedicated to growing this portion of the library and has already announced the upcoming addition of The Encyclopedia of Asian Design, lesson plans, bibliographic guides, and an expanded and searchable image library. The vitality of the site will in part rest on the fruition of these features.

The Bloomsbury Design Library provides substantial, focused, reliable information about design history. It offers its users – students especially – a convenient entrée to the world of design ideas, guiding them towards deeper resources in a relevant and efficient manner. It is a useful starting point, if hardly the final word in design history.

Saraleah Fordyce is a lecturer at California College of the Arts

Journal of Design History, March 2019

By Zara Arshad

The Bloomsbury Design Library is an exclusively digital resource that brings together key publications, like the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, the Encyclopedia of Asian Design, and the World History of Design series, with additional content forms, including a database of museum collections, an exhibitions archive, and other research and learning tools, such as bibliographic guides. Part of Bloomsbury Publishing’s Digital Resources initiative, first launched in 2017, the Bloomsbury Design Library is an ambitious project that has the potential to become a central resource for researchers, teachers, and students of design all over the world.

As well as the aforementioned volumes, the library offers access to over seventy-five eBooks. These titles, which are authored by noted experts, span a range of disciplines and topics—from design history and theory, to architecture, craft, and even design futures. One of the most significant features of these eBooks is the ability to search each one using keywords, a useful tool that effectively helps to expedite the research process. A search for the word ‘global’ in Design and National Identity by Dr Javier Gimeno-Martínez (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), for example, returns 143 hits located in ten chapters. Selecting one of these results takes the user to full chapters in which the searched term appears, though perhaps somewhat counter intuitively the original search term is no longer highlighted within the text.

Additional benefits of these digitized publications entail fully linked tables of contents that redirect users to a selected book chapter, full colour illustrations, and live links embedded within entries, particularly in bibliographies, which lead users to online sources and repositories located elsewhere. These links increase the breadth of the Bloomsbury Design Library, providing immediate access to external sources that scholars may wish to consult quickly, though the project’s administrators will inevitably face challenges around monitoring and updating these links due to the generally transient nature of web-based material.

The book content in the Bloomsbury Design Library is complemented by other kinds of material, such as designer biographies, a history of design timeline, and sections highlighting specific museum collections and exhibitions, all providing useful basic reference points for researchers. The ‘Designer Biographies’ section, for instance, features short profiles of selected designers, with each entry comprising a brief opening text summarizing the designer’s career and activities, followed by listings outlining details such as institutional affiliation, gender, and nationality. The design directory could be a valuable resource for curators, teachers, and students, especially those embarking on a new research project. At present, however, this section—itself a collation of abridged extracts from the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design—is still limited in its representation, mostly spotlighting male personalities associated with Europe and North America. Curiously, the encyclopedia’s original entries on designers from Korea, such as Ahn Sang-soo, Noh Nora, and Min Chul-hong, have not yet been added to the resource, suggesting that it is still undergoing expansion.

The interactive timeline, meanwhile, could benefit from further development. Best browsed in full-screen mode, this is classified by century and decade, as well as by the following five themes: Culture and the Arts, Society and Politics, Technology and Science, Economics and Trade, and Ideas and Philosophies. These taxonomies demonstrate a welcomed attempt at situating design history in its wider political, social, cultural, and economic contexts. But a clunky format (clicking on ‘Read More’ on an entry, for instance, often redirects the user to another publication featured in the design library, requiring constant back-andforth navigation), alongside broken images and seemingly randomly selected entries has, unfortunately, resulted in a tool that is not as user friendly for scholars as it could be.

These shortcomings hint at the broader challenges of a digital initiative like the Bloomsbury Design Library: ensuring that the project website can be intuitively navigated, allowing for easy access to materials. Though the Bloomsbury Design Library demonstrates a clean website design, its navigation categories are somewhat confusing. Items on the homepage, which are listed under a subcategory called ‘Explore’, reappear in the website’s menu bar under ‘Browse Contents’, while the menu’s own ‘Explore’ option offers an entirely different set of categories (‘Period’, ‘Place’, ‘People’, ‘Disciplines’, and ‘Schools, Movement and Styles’). The layout, therefore, can be unclear for first-time users, though this issue can be quickly resolved of course via improved website structure.

Other sections of the digital library, such as ‘Museum Collections’, ‘Exhibition Archive’, and ‘Research and Learning Tools’, were sparsely populated at the time of writing. Though speculating from the few materials published, these areas of the website could become essential tools for future scholars and curators. The ‘Museum Collections’ section, for example, currently showcases two institutions—the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York, USA, and Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen, Denmark. As with ‘Designer Biographies’, these profiles open with a short text outlining institutional history, as well as information about the museum’s collections.

The entry on MAD, furthermore, is accompanied by an illustrated selection of collection objects, which the user can explore further. If such material were to be compiled for an expanded list of design museums from around the globe, the Bloomsbury Design Library would become a hugely significant resource, not only offering an  encyclopedic list of global design museum collections, but also allowing for their direct comparison. The ‘Exhibition Archive’, meanwhile, is a similar endeavour to the ‘Museum Collections’ section, though at present only two exhibitions affiliated with Designmuseum Danmark are listed.

Finally, the library’s ‘Research and Learning Tools’ area contains specially commissioned resource packs for teachers, students, and researchers, including lesson plans and bibliographic guides that draw on materials in the Bloomsbury Design Library. Only one lesson plan and one bibliographic guide have been uploaded at present: both focus on modernism in Scandinavia, and have been skilfully collated by Dr Charlotte Ashby, author of Modernism in Scandinavian Art, Architecture and Design (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). The lesson plan is especially comprehensive, with its suggestions of core texts, questions for discussion, homework exercises, and links to external content (including to museum databases). This is offered alongside an extensive literature review and bibliography that refreshingly lists titles not necessarily published by or affiliated with Bloomsbury.

The Bloomsbury Design Library’s current offerings make it an excellent place to start a research project for students, academics, and curators alike, providing access to a wide range of resources that cover design, crafts, and visual arts from 1500 BCE to the present day. Teachers, moreover, can use these materials to assign course readings at no extra cost to students, which illustrates another key benefit. The digital library demonstrates a solid foundational framework which Bloomsbury can now build upon: there is much scope to improve website usability, as well as to expand content to explore design in geographic contexts other than Europe and North America (the Encyclopedia of Asian Design is a good step in this regard). Also, lacking at present are works by authors of more varied backgrounds, including people of colour, whose voices are distinctly under-represented. Addressing this should, perhaps, move to the top of the priority list for Bloomsbury Publishing.

Zara Arshad is an independent curator based in London, UK

Design Issues, December 2018

By David Raizman

The online Bloomsbury Design Library (BDL) is a robust and welcome resource for the study of design, encompassing the interrelated fields of design history, theory, and criticism. These fields have grown substantially since being identified in the mid-1980s as making up “design studies.” Growth leads to specialization, and specialization has made each field increasingly independent. Nonetheless, the BDL attempts to maintain a relationship among the branches of design studies with an extensive collection of reference works, scholarly books, and other resources that complement each other well. A key feature of the site can be found in the marginal links that reference related works in the library with whatever subject the reader is investigating. For instance, when perusing an entry on China in the chapter titled “Cross-cultural Encounters 1200–1700” in the first volume of Victor Margolin’s sweeping World History of Design, the reader finds a link to an essay on the subject in A John Heskett Reader (“Chinese Design: What Can We Learn from the Past?”); in addition to Margolin’s bibliography at the end of each chapter, these cross-references to additional online material on the site connect resources by subject for further investigation.

The BDL is a boon for design history teachers and perhaps, if well marketed, for art history teachers as well. Before retirement I was in the habit of requiring my students to write definitions of terms each week in preparation for class; when the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design appeared in print, I envisioned that students would gravitate toward it as a source of information rather than relying on often indiscriminate web surfing for their weekly entries. I was disappointed to find that despite its ready availability on the reference shelf on the library’s first floor, most students persisted in searching for information online. With Bloomsbury’s considerable design resources now online, students in universities, colleges, and art/design schools that subscribe to the BDL would have no excuse but to log on and gain access to peer-reviewed resources pertinent to the study of design.

For scholars as well, the BDL eliminates the roadblock created by the high cost of purchasing the publishers’ multivolume reference works, namely, the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Margolin’s World History of Design (volumes 1 and 2 now available), and Daniel Huppatz’s four-volume Design: Critical and Primary Sources. The BDL contains links to several (mostly edited) volumes on design history, practice, theory, and criticism by respected authors on the Bloomsbury roster, including Grace Lees-Maffei, Kjetil Fallan, Tony Fry, Clive Dilnot, and others.

I’m familiar with and perhaps a bit biased toward the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, having served as a subject editor reporting to general editor Clive Edwards, and I consider it an inclusive, well-informed, and illustrated reference work with contributions by leading international experts, edited for accessibility and with helpful bibliography and cross-references for each entry. I was also able to examine the first two volumes of Margolin’s World History of Design for the first time in preparing this review, covering prehistory through the beginning of World War II. Indeed the World History of Design is most ambitious, and its global perspective is impressive and refreshing. For the time periods after 1400, it must compete with Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber’s more in-depth and multiauthored History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400–2000 (Yale University Press, 2013). In his chapter introductions, Margolin tends to foreground technology (production, materials, tools), transportation and trade, and politics as common threads for exploring design history rather than (or in addition to) styles or individual designers, and the text moves from these sweeping overviews of technological change and economic and social development to illustrations of individual examples, often accompanied by analyses. Most impressive is Margolin’s inclusion of unfamiliar material that lies outside of the standard Eurocentric narrative of design history, for instance, a section with illustrations on Turkish graphic design from the early twentieth century (“The Near and Middle East 1900–1939”), or an inclusive series of subsections on non-Western nations in Asia, Africa, and South America in the period 1790–1900. In addition to suggesting new areas of study for future design historians, content is again augmented in the margins by references to chapters or entries elsewhere in the BDL.

For me at least, there are gaps between the general introductions and the analyses of illustrated examples. For the section on Africa between 1200 and 1700 (volume 1), for instance, a reference or acknowledgment of the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition 

(and catalog) Kongo—Majesty and Power (2015) would have provided specific evidence of economic ties between Europe and Africa prior to the nineteenth century rather than broad generalizations. There are other caveats, for instance, the omission of the twelfth-century craftsman Theophilus’s treatise “On Divers Arts,” which is a signature primary source for several branches of medieval craft and technology. The good news is that the shortcomings of Margolin’s vast work are compensated for by the other components of the BDL and its cross-referencing feature. In fact, it seems to me the World History of Design is more useful as part of the BDL than as a stand-alone reference work.

There is also a section on museum collections. At present only a sampling of the collection of the Museum of Art and Design in New York is available, but again, the illustration of individual works is accompanied by marginal references to related works in the collection as well as entries in the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. The website of the Cooper Hewitt (National Design) Museum in New York offers a similar cross-referencing feature to its own collection—when you search an object, the website provides links to other objects of possible relevance. One would hope that more museum collections might be made available in the future on the BDL site, or perhaps links to their sites. The result would help make the BDL a design studies “clearinghouse,” a onestop virtual shopping mall for the field. The “Designer Library” is another feature of the BDL; it contains biographies of wellknown figures in the field and links to the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design entries and book chapters. I suppose there are drawbacks to such a single-publisher approach—in limiting one’s armchair investigations to Bloomsbury titles of one sort or another. Regardless of how extensive, Bloomsbury doesn’t publish everything in the field, and students should be encouraged to use the BDL and its bibliographies to explore beyond the resources at one’s fingertips.

It is hard not to be impressed by this robust tool of the Information Age, in which so much material is made available in one place and the site itself facilitates straightforward and intuitive navigation. No doubt Bloomsbury hopes to garner sales for its books, since every resource is accompanied by a “buy this” button. But the BDL is far more than a marketing ploy—for students and scholars alike, it is a remarkable and most useful learning and research tool.

David Raizman is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Drexel University, Pennsylvania

Library Journal, December 2018

By Gricel Dominguez


Overseen by general editor Clive Edwards (emeritus, design history, Loughborough Univ., UK), Bloomsbury Design Library presents a scholarly, detailed, global look at the history of design and crafts, from 1500 BCE to today. Along with visuals, the collection features reference and monograph titles, including Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design and the two-volume World History of Design, articles from the Encyclopedia of Asian Design, more than 70 ebooks on craft and design studies by experts, 1,000 images from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, pages from museum exhibitions around the world, and 100-plus “designer pages” by key figures in the history of design. Future plans for the collection include the addition of design ebooks, articles from the Encyclopedia of Design, more images from the Museum of Arts and Design, lesson plans, and bibliographic guides.

Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design contains more than 1,700 reference articles by international design scholars, covering an array of disciplines, designers, schools, movements, styles, national design histories, methods, and processes. World History of Design, by Victor Margolin (emeritus, design history, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago), tells the history of crafts, decorative arts, and graphic and industrial design from the prehistoric age to the end of World War II. The two titles are exclusively available in digital format through Bloomsbury Design Library.

The ebook collection boasts works on design and craft history, national design traditions, theory, and criticism.


A clean, easy-to-navigate interface highlights featured content. (At the time of this review, the database was spotlighting “design and play,” with a focus on LEGO.) The “explore” menu lets users browse by “period,” “place,” “people,” “disciplines,” and “schools, movements, and styles.” The “browse contents” menu lists links to the World History of Design, Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, “book chapters,” “designers,” and “museum and exhibition images.”

Though not particularly in-depth, the time line (previewed on the homepage) provides a glimpse at the history of design. Entries highlight key events in “culture and the arts,” “society and politics,” “technology and science,” “economics and trade,” and “ideas and philosophy.” Selecting a period redirects users to a page on the history of that era and promotes further discovery through links to related content.

In addition to basic searches, users can perform advanced searches by keyword, title, author/editor/creator, summary/abstract, category, and identifier. They can also limit searches by year and content type (book chapter, encyclopedia article, etc.). A basic search for “William Morris,” for example, results in 81 matches, including book chapters, articles, biographies, and museum objects. Users can refine results by content type, disciplines, design industry, themes, and more.

Entries offer links to related content. The one drawback is that researchers must use the back button on their browser to return to the results page after viewing an entry. That said, searches and results can be saved to a personal account for future access.

Users can view entries from ebooks or encyclopedias in full text and search within the title for additional content. Monograph works include a summary/abstract and table of contents. These are full-text searchable, and users can browse the table of contents to click through to a desired page. They can also print, share, and cite materials. Because the content is HTML-based, the text loads quickly; however, load times may vary, as many articles are image-heavy.

The Museum Collections currently include exhibitions from the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, and Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen, Denmark. Descriptions of the exhibitions and specific objects are available. Users can zoom in for full-screen viewing as well as turn and expand the images.


Bloomsbury Design Library is available for purchase (perpetual access pricing ranges from $6,989 to $36,516) or by subscription ($1,165 to $6,639). Costs are based on size and type of institution, with discounts available from consortia. Annual content update fees (for purchase only) are $500 to $1,000 per year, based on size and type of institution and are subject to increase.


This is a one-of-a-kind collection users can get lost in, whether they are experts, practitioners, or curious browsers. Aimed at students and scholars of visual arts and design, it could also support a study of material culture and user experience. Offering tons of unique content, it’s highly recommended for institutions with design studies.

Gricel Dominguez is a librarian at the Hubert Library, University of Florida

Reference Reviews, April 2018

By Maria Fesz

Bloomsbury Design Library is a part of Bloomsbury Digital Resources. According to Bloomsbury, the Design Library “provides unrivalled coverage of design and crafts worldwide, from 1500 BCE to the present day”. Promoting exploration, discovery, and research, Bloomsbury Design Library aims to help students and professionals “understand the history of design in its social, political and economic context”.

This resource presents many avenues for scholarship and exploration. The home page’s simple and sleek design is easily navigable and highlights the main components of the Design Library. The home page features Timeline by Century, Designer Focus, and Explore columns that lead to each major resource in the Design Library. The Timeline by Century is further divided by decade. Each decade has events classified by several categories, including Society & Politics, Economics & Trade, and Ideas & Philosophies. Events on the timeline are only a short description but some also feature pictures of artwork and design. This part of the Design Library would be especially useful for those beginning research on a specific time period or a curator attempting to place a piece of fashion or art in a certain time period. More robust research would be better conducted using other resources in the Design Library.

The Designer Focus part of the home page uses a short description that connects to other Design Library resources such as the designer’s biography entry and related fashion events in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design (Edwards 2016) (RR 2017/054). This feature allows for quick discovery while also showcasing the depth of information provided in the rest of the Design Library. The remainder of the resources available from the home page include the World History of Design (Margolin 2015), Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Book Chapters, Designers, and Museum Collections.

The World History of Design and The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, both published by Bloomsbury, are searchable and have several useful features. The search results are identified by volume number and chapter. Volumes are arranged by time period, and chapters by more specific time period range, movement, and/or geographic area. The search term is helpfully emphasized with bold text in each search result. The search term “tapestry” pulled up 60 results in 13 chapters, and variations of “tapestry” such as “tapestries” were also listed in the search results. This is useful for students who may not be familiar with truncating their search terms to broaden their search on a topic. When a search result is selected, however, some of the positive usability characteristics are lost. The search result link leads the user to the full chapter, not to the first instance of the search term. Many of the chapters are lengthy (over 20 pages), and the search term is no longer highlighted in bold within the text. Additionally, the individual chapters of the book are not searchable. Aside from these aspects, there are several helpful sections and links in each chapter. Figures discussed within paragraphs are linked and will take the user directly to the picture, figure, or plate. A bibliographic essay at the end of the chapter is a wonderful inclusion to help place the topic into a research context and direct the reader to available resources to pursue further. The following bibliographic list is not limited to online subscription resources and is also not Bloomsbury-specific. Articles, books, dissertations/theses, and websites are all examples of included bibliographic resources.

The Book Chapters consist of 67 e-books on subjects including but not limited to lighting design, architecture, philosophical aspects of design, introductory design, and crafts. These books are from an array of reputable publishers, and are not searchable. A helpful summary of each title is included in the list of books. The Designers page has a variety of ways to refine search results, including but not limited to disciplines, objects, period, companies and brands, and themes. Most of the designer entries are from The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. At the time of this review, the Museum Collections tab only contained one collection from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. A representative from Bloomsbury stated that the Design Library will have exhibitions from the Design Museum in Denmark coming soon and various other partnerships are being formed for many future updates. The Museum of Arts and Design collection.

Maria Fesz is Adult Services Librarian at Westlake Porter Public Library, Ohio