Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Media, Art, and Text

First Advisor

Dr. Eric Garberson

Second Advisor

Dr. David Golumbia

Third Advisor

Peyton Rowe

Fourth Advisor

David Shields

Fifth Advisor

Matt Woolman


This dissertation examines the ways in which design and design practitioners have defined value in the design discourse through the vocabulary and concept of goodness since 1870. These definitions of value have been central to design discourse both past and present and deal with the impact and purpose of design work as well as its role in the creation of the approaching future. Since before the coalescence of graphic design as a separate field of design, these questions have been tied to the form, function or social impact of the objects created by designers. Despite the prevalence of this line of inquiry in the discourse, current usage tends toward uncritical and uninformed usage because of a separation of the terminology from the historical context in which this conversation developed. The purpose of this investigation, then, is not to segment terms into “right” or “proper” definitions, but to apply a critical historical lens to the vocabulary of goodness as it has been used in the larger design discourse since 1870 in order to better understand the state of current discussions of value and to inform paths of future inquiry.

In order to do so, this investigation developed a framework by which to understand the ways in which goodness has been contextualized over the last 150 years. This historical context does not limit us to a historicist approach to design, and it not presented as an essentialist or teleological marker of things to come. Instead, knowledge of the historical context and various uses of a term makes us better educated practitioners of design who are more capable of combating the individualistic fallacy of the enlightened genius. Through a fuller knowledge of the critical historical context in which our field’s vocabulary developed, we can better understand notions of creativity that position designers as expert guides through networks of information and meaning.


© Garreth C. Blackwell

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission