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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Alex Tinkler

Born in 1991, I am an industrial designer, design historian and writer from Newcastle Upon Tyne, and a graduate of Northumbria University's prestigious Design for Industry BA Hons (2014). Having worked in product design for close to a decade, in 2021 I decided to transition from design for manufacture to design history with the ultimate goal of developing a unique set of skills and an insight forged with design practice.

My writing explores themes of making, marketing and manufacturing using holistic modes of analysis developed through my design practice. I have explored ideas of periphery and regionality in design, and my work leans heavily on the design histories of the industrial North East.

The goal is to understand the hidden symbiosis between design histories and design practice in order to augment design futures - it is my hope to carry on this research into the business practices of peripheral makers in eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth-century England at PhD level, and to a career in academia and education.

Robert Bearcroft Barker Bursary recipient 2021

Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize recipient 2022

Cover image: courtesy of V&A museum, edited by author.


The lens through which we, in the twenty-first century, view the businesses of 250 years ago has been shaped by a system of research and learning whose best attempt at understanding material culture is to look at objects, modes of consumption or systems of making. While this is not inherently wrong, it doesn’t necessarily afford us the complete picture of how businesses in the eighteenth century truly operated. Many historians have come close, and all work contributes to the broader understanding of eighteenth-century consumption but, as of yet, there has been very little done to combine these fields of knowledge. 

In as much as the Beilby family operated their business in a way that encapsulates the synergistic nature of design and consumption, this research performs a deep dive into that business, aiming to understand the interactions between market and maker. Yet, it does this in a more empirical and meaningful way than before. The combination of object analysis, data collection, theoretical understanding and historiography employed here goes on to elucidate the true creativity of the Ingenious Beilbys throughout their most prolific decade (1760-1770) and delivers a more comprehensive and nuanced view of product design in the eighteen century, all contributing to a better realised image of the Beilbys, consumption and English taste in this era. 

The outcomes of this research are primed to inform a much larger study of eighteenth-century practises, using the Beilby family and the research methodology employed here as a barometer, and shifting our academic perceptions of makers in the 1700s. 

Image of decorated 18th Century glass on a black background with title of dissertation above and subtitle below.
Pyramid chart highlighting distribution of Beilby glasses by style.
This chart highlights the modes of analysis used in my research; taking large quantities of objects, looking for patterns and synthesising logical conclusions based on observable traits, historical research and design practice experience.
Baluster glass with enamelled armorial depicting Tilly coat of arms in yellow and white.
Launch Project
Rare decorated light baluster commissioned by and enamelled for the Dutch Tilly family. Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Alex Tinkler standing at a lectern speaking at Symposium
Please find my research presentation at 23:29-30:20. I was fortunate enough to also deliver some closing words on the MA History of Design course, which you can watch from 1:31:06-1:35:15.

About Thinking Through Materials

A cross-disciplinary project run in collaboration between the V&A Museum and Imperial College, London in which I was part of a cross-college student cohort tasked with designing and implementing a 10-week elective module to be taught at Imperial College, starting in 2023. The project required the development of educational activities to be carried out in both the museum spaces of the V&A and the educational spaces of Imperial College. This included formulating lesson plans, course content, reading lists and themed teaching with the aim of connecting historiographical methodologies to the field of material sciences.

I spearheaded the inclusion of an object deconstruction exercise, core to the assessment points of the programme and I also taught as a graduate teaching assistant, helping students on the course develop new skills in historical research and design. The thinking through materials programme is slated to continue into 2023-2024 and has been a fantastic success which I am proud to have been a part of.

Silver art deco teapot designed by Christopher Dresser
Launch Project


Get Well Soon was written in response to the feelings and design interventions brought about by the zenith of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is my exploration of design in a dark time; cynical and circumspect, this is my internal monologue reflected in the glass eyes of a plush virus.

The Covid-19 pandemic has raged for over two years and only now begins to show some sign of abatement. Never has “Get Well Soon” been so widely used, nor has it been so widely needed and never has it felt so useless. It offers little comfort to those in hospital beds, dying with the illness, those suffering the haunting aftereffects of ‘long covid’ or those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.

And yet, we live in a time where medical science, and general human ingenuity, has proffered myriad solutions to the problems caused by the global pandemic. An itch for the cure led to the cure for the itch, however there are many who believe it is all lies. They spew vitriolic misinformation that the vaccines are a lie. "We’ve been duped" they say. They “put chip and pins in the needles” they say. If I were a conspiracist I would feel duped regardless, because neither Covid has disappeared nor has my mobile phone signal improved. It’s a lose-lose situation.

“Many thought the revolution, when it came, would look like how it’s looked before: a protest in the streets, some good looting and riots, a coup, a mutiny. The world has been anticipating the fury that’s been building up, in everyone and everything, about everyone and everything, and we’ve ached for it to finally boil over and erupt.
Now might be a good time to rethink what a revolution can look like. Perhaps it doesn’t look like a march of angry, abled bodies in the streets. Perhaps it looks something more like the world standing still because all the bodies in it are exhausted—because care has to be prioritised before it’s too late.”[1]

Unfortunately, however, the revolution has come, and it looks exactly as each did before it. Violence, shouting in the streets, victimisation and propaganda. This is a cold war, or rather a war on the not-so-common cold. Don’t get the jab they say… But get well soon...

Movie poster style artwork with title of essay and red heart featuring covid virus in centre
Plush toy in the shape of covid virus on green background.
Feedback: The experimentation of the piece comes from not only the creative attention paid to its presentation and inventive format, but also in the ludic, provocative, satirical register of the piece, which absolutely works in the context of the overwhelming subject matter (it’s a tone that reminded me of that of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels as well as Dr Strangelove.) -James Machin

Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize 2022