Italian Design and Society, c.1940 to 1980


The classic narrative of the phenomenal success of post-war Italian industrial design and architecture is widely celebrated. This critically up-to-date course will consider the subject within a fresh and broad social, cultural, economic, and international context. The course will cover the key figures and companies responsible for many iconic, often innovatory designs, such as Corradino D’Ascanio’s Vespa for Piaggio, Marcello Nizzoli's work for Olivetti and Necchi, Franco Albini and Poggi, and Dante Giacosa for Fiat. Significant women designers will also be covered, including Cini Boeri, Anna Castelli Ferrieri, and Franca Helg, as will important design theorists, such as Bruno Munari, and civil and mechanical engineers, including Pier Luigi Nervi and Natale Capellaro, all of whom are too easily forgotten. The publications that helped promulgate Italian design to a wider audience will be considered, including Domus and Stile Industria, as well as the important role played by the Milan Triennial exhibitions, the Italian industrial design association (ADI), the Compasso d’Oro awards, and Italy’s extensive artisanal craft networks.

Each week will largely concentrate on a separate decade, from the 1940s to the 80s. The course will consider the relevance to post-war Italian design of foreign investment, such as from the US European Recovery Program – often known as the Marshall Fund – the adoption in Italy of American-style production lines, and the development of new materials and manufacturing processes. The impact of important national events will considered, such as the formation of the Italian Republic, national politics, and the internal migration of workers from different parts of the peninsula, as well as world events, including the USA-USSR space race in the 1960s and the OPEC oil crisis of the early 1970s. The influence of renowned contemporary artists and film-makers will be highlighted, along with the professional collaboration between Italian and foreign designers and companies.

Where possible, the tutor will bring into class important examples of Italian design from the period under discussion each week, so that they can be studied first-hand. Overall, this short course will be a comprehensive, well-illustrated and highly-referenced introduction to the history and significance of Italian design and society in the second half of the twentieth century.

Programme details

Course Begins: 1st Nov 2022

Week 1:  A war-torn nation rebuilds

Week 2:  Craft, collaboration, corporate conscience

Week 3:  Design codified, commodified, consumed

Week 4:  Negotiating a (bright and shiny?) new world

Week 5:  Radical Design, Anti-Design, Postmodern Design


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £130.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Philippa Joseph

Dr Philippa Joseph is an art, architectural, and design historian. In addition to her teaching at the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, Dr Joseph is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research (University of London), and a lecturer for Martin Randall Travel in Italy and Spain. While Dr Joseph's research and teaching typically concentrates on cross-cultural artistic and architectural exchange across the Mediterranean, this course is the result of her passion for, and critical engagement with, modern Italian design, having lived in Italy as a teenager.

Course aims

Whilst acknowledging the celebrated, classic narrative of the subject, this course will endeavour to provide a critically up-to-date overview of Italian industrial design, from about 1940 to the 1980s.   

Course Objectives:

1. Provide a cultural framework and historical context for understanding post-war Italian design;

2. Identify the most important Italian designs, designers, and companies involved in producing classic designs, whilst also appreciating the outside factors and influences that contributed to Italy's success; 

3. Provide fresh approaches to interpreting and understanding Italian design, and question whether or not 'The Italian Line' was a distinctive phenomenon, and whether it has art historical significance.

Teaching methods

Each week, there will be two illustrated lectures, normally on related topics, each of about 30-40 minutes' duration, followed by group discussion and questions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Understand the chronological outline of the the most important Italian designs, designers, and companies, in the five decades from the 1940s to the 80s;

2. Recognize and be able to understand the significance of some of the most important Italian design classics;

3. Have developed an appreciation of whether Italian post-war industrial design was unique.

Assessment methods

A short formative piece (250 words), followed by a book review, critical visual analysis, or an ekphrasis (750 words).

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

This will be an introductory course, for which no prior knowledge of the subject will be required.

This course has five CATS points assigned to it.  Five CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of five two-hour sessions.  It is expected that, for every two hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)