Public Practices

Global North/USA

Anna Talley

Dissertation Title

How Google Uses Design for Profit & Power: Neocolonialism & Google’s Material Design Guidelines

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My work on the MA course focused on graphic and communication design, as I have a background in graphic design practice. My object study explored a nineteenth-century advertisement, How the British Empire Spells Bovril, and investigated the mutual relationship between the Bovril Company and the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century, focusing specifically on the way the advertisement reveals the means by which the company used various aspects of imperialism to market their product to domestic consumers. I wrote my historiography on narratives around the transition from print to digital newspapers in the late twentieth-century and the role of newspapers in contemporary society.

My dissertation centred around Google’s Material Design guidelines and explores how Google uses design as a tool to augment the company’s neocolonial actions. It reveals the twentieth-century, imperialist origins of Material as a modern design system and examines how these origins inform the functioning of Material within a contemporary, neocolonial context. My study’s framing reveals how a contemporary design system can be used for neo-imperial purposes and is the first to critically investigate Google’s design. The dissertation serves to answer the overall question: How is Material Design used to enhance Google’s profit and control within a neocolonial context? I used three areas of inquiry to investigate Google and Material Design: first, the connection between ideologies developed in mid-century modernism and their influence on Material Design; second, how Material Design is situated within a use context in the Global South; and third, exploring role of Google as a “designer” as the creator and source of the Material guidelines and the implications of such control. Ultimately, my dissertation brings to light the way digital design works to further the neocolonial ambitions of Google, adding a new element to the complex web of social, economic and cultural factors that have allowed the company to become globally influential. More broadly, it reveals how modernist design systems can perpetuate and support neocolonial ideologies and actions in the twenty-first century.

While on the MA, I also co-founded Design in Quarantine, a digital archive of design responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and served as a curatorial volunteer working between the Furniture, Textiles, and Fashion department and the Architecture, Digital, and Design departments at the V&A on the reinstallation of the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries.

If you want to keep up with what I’m working on, you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

Material History /Virtual World

The V&A/RCA History of Design MA is offered jointly by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. It encourages interdisciplinary, innovative and critical approaches to the history of design across a range of mediums, places and times. Students work closely with the collections and curators at the V&A, as well as participating in the creative community at the RCA.