1995 …2024

Research activity per year

Personal profile


Grace Lees-Maffei is Professor of Design History and Programme Director for the Professional Doctorate in Heritage (DHeritage) in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire 

Externally, Prof Lees-Maffei is Chair of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Design History, the leading journal in the field, published for the Design History Society by Oxford University Press. With Professor Kjetil Fallan (University of Oslo, Norway), Grace is founding Co-Series Editor of the Cultural Histories of Design book series, published by Bloomsbury Academic. She is on the Advisory Board of the Bloomsbury Design Library, and AIS/Design Storia e Ricerche, Journal of the Associazione italiana degli storici del design. 

Prof Lees-Maffei led the Theorising Visual Art and Design (TVAD) Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire from 2009-2018 and chaired the University of Hertfordshire's Researcher Development Group from 2015-2019. She is founding Chair of the University's Network of Women+ Professors and a founder member of AWAG, the University's Academic Women's Advancement Group. In 2018, Prof Lees-Maffei received her Long Service Award (20 Years) and in 2020 she received the University's highest honour, the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Living the Values. 

Grace maintains a research website and blog at www.graceleesmaffei.org  

Research interests

Professor Lees-Maffei's research as a design historian has contributed to knowledge and understanding of heritage and design, national identity and globalization in design, domesticity, design historical methodology and the historiography of design. Much of her work has focussed on the mediation of ideas about design through channels including domestic advice literature, corporate literature, graphic design, magazines and advertising.

Lees-Maffei is author of Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945 (Routledge 2014) and co-author of Reading Graphic Design in Cultural Context (Bloomsbury Academic 2019). She is editor of Writing Design: Words and Objects (Berg 2012) and Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things (Bloomsbury 2014, paperback 2020), and co-editor of The Design History Reader (Berg 2010) forthcoming in a revised second edition in 2024, Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design (Bloomsbury Academic 2014) and Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization (Berghahn 2016, paperback 2018). Grace's research has been published in journals including Design IssuesDesign and Culture, The Design Journal, the Journal of Design History,Women's History ReviewModern Italy, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education and the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice.

Commercial and public engagement

Prof Lees-Maffei is a member of the University's Heritage for Business group, under the auspices of the Heritage Hub, and she has contributed her expertise in the history of design, marketing and mediation of household goods in work with manufacturers and retailers in the UK and Europe.

Lees-Maffei has engaged the public with her research via film and radio appearances and through research assistance to a series of media producers.

Her public engagement has been further conducted through service to the Design History Society, as elected Treasurer (1998-2001), Event Award Coordinator (2001-2) and Trustee (2021-26). She convened the Society's 2009 Annual Conference, Writing Design: Object, Process, Discourse, Translation, hosted at the University of Hertfordshire, and has demonstrated an extensive commitment to the editorial work of the Society's journal, the Journal of Design History as Chair of the Editorial Board (2021-26), Managing Editor (2011-17), Editorial Board Member (2002-8) and Book Reviews Editor (2002-6). 

Prof Lees-Maffei is Book Series Editor, with Prof Kjetil Fallan (University of Oslo), for Cultural Histories of Design (Bloomsbury Academic) and Advisory Board Member for the Bloomsbury Design Library. She is also Advisory Board member for AIS/Design Storia e Ricerche, journal of the AIS/Design (Associazione italiana degli storici del design). Previously, she was an advisory board member for The Poster (renamed as The Journal of Political Visual Communication) and Series Editor for Writing Visual Culture.

From 2012 to 2023, Grace has served three consecutive terms as a member of the Peer Review College of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Between 2016 and 2019, Professor Lees-Maffei was Advisory Board Member for Electric Irish Homes, an AHRC Leadership Fellowship project led by Dr Sorcha O’Brien, Kingston University. In 2012 Lees-Maffei was Consultant to the project Design in Portugal (1960-1974): the actions, actors and repercussions of the Art, Industrial Architecture and Industrial Design Nuclei of the National Institute of Industrial Research (I.N.I.I.), IADE-Instituto de Artes Visuais, Design e Marketing, Lisboa, Portugal.

Teaching specialisms

Professor Lees-Maffei is a qualified research supervisor interested in supervising research within and across design history, critical heritage studies and cultural history.

She has supervised three doctoral students to successful completion:

Grace is currently supervising the following doctoral students:

  • Principal Supervisor for Sarah Buckingham, ‘A Reconsideration of Principles and Practice in Major Interventions to Rehabilitate Heritage Sites’.
  • Co-Supervisor for Zana Osmani, ‘Regeneration of Historic Town of Janjeva: Challenge and Opportunity’
  • Co-Supervisor for Nicola Moody, ‘Handweaving as a pertinent artform to illuminate stories and data generated because of the COVID-19 Pandemic’.
  • Co-Supervisor for Sarahjayne Clements, 'Breaking Barriers: Disability Inclusion in Archaeology'.

Prof Lees-Maffei's research degree examination experience includes:

  • Bugali, Hilal (2019) ‘Emancipatory Design: A Foucauldian Critical Discourse Study’, Robert Gordon University, UK. 
  • Hartley, Alexandra PhD (2019) ‘The Cultural Legacy of the Mechanics Institute Movement in the North of England’, University of Huddersfield, UK.
  • Garrett, Miranda PhD (2018) ‘Women Decorators at the end of the C19th’, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, UK.
  • Groenewald, Marlizè PhD (2018) ‘Domesticating the modern: An interrogation of the visual rhetoric of South African graphic designer Ernst de Jong (1934-2016)’, University of Pretoria, South Africa.
  • Naismith, Jacqueline PhD (2014) ‘Mediating the Alpine Archiscape: Emplacing the Subject in Publicity Design for New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park’, Massey University Te Kunenga Ki Purehuroa, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Thomas, Patricia PhD (2014) ‘Large letter’d as with thundering shout’: A Textual and Graphic Analysis of Nineteenth Century Emigration Posters, New Zealand 1839 – 1875’, Massey University Te Kunenga Ki Purehuroa, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Avery, Tracey PhD (2012) ‘Beneath the Veneer: Negotiating British and Colonial Australian Relationships in Queensland Domestic Interiors, 1880-1901’ University of Melbourne, Australia.

Lees-Maffei has delivered doctoral training in a variety of contexts:

  • Keynote speaker for the London Doctoral Design Centre (LDoc) AHRC-funded centre for doctoral training, Royal College of Art, Kingston University and the University of the Arts London, November 2022.
  • Programme Director for the Professional Doctorate in Heritage (DHeritage) at the University of Hertfordshire.
  • Visiting Professor for the Doctoral Programme in Design, IADE-U, Lisbon, Portugal, teaching the core course ‘Academic Writing in English’, 2013-14.
  • Keynote Speaker at ‘The Statement of the Object: Aesthetics, Theory, Context’, PhD and Research Seminar, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen at Centre Franco-Norvégien en Sciences Sociales et Humaines (CFN), Paris, 2014.

Grace's MA teaching experience includes:

  • Visiting Professor for the MA Design Cultures at VU University, Amsterdam, teaching the core course 'Design, History, Culture', and examining MA theses.
  • Teaching on the MA Art and Design at the University of Hertfordshire.

Grace has been teaching at the University of Hertfordshire since 1995, including, in addition to work with research degree and MA students, sustained contributions over many years to the BA Hons Graphic Design and Illustration programme and the BA Hons Contemporary Applied Arts.

Before joining Hertfordshire, Grace worked as a gallery lecturer in the Education Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, as a visiting lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts Epsom and Farnham (now the University for the Creative Arts), and as a Guest Lecturer at the University of the Arts London.

Education/Academic qualification

Design History, PhD , Modern Living: Domestic Advice Literature and Design Discourse in Post-War Britain, The University of Portsmouth

Award Date: 15 Apr 2005

History of Design, MA RCA, V&A/RCA MA in the History of Design, Royal College of Art

Award Date: 5 Jul 1996

English Literature, BA Hons

Award Date: 13 Jul 1994

Art and Design, Foundation Certificate, The University of Brighton

Award Date: 1 Jul 1991

External positions

Chair of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Design History, Design History Society

1 Sept 202131 Aug 2026

Trustee, Design History Society

1 Sept 202131 Aug 2026

Full Fellow, Royal Society of Arts

1 Jan 2020 → …

Full Fellow, Royal Historical Society

1 Jul 2019 → …

Series Editor, Cultural Histories of Design, Bloomsbury Publishers

15 Oct 2015 → …

Peer Review College Member, UKRI - Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

30 Apr 200131 Dec 2023

Full Fellow, Higher Education Academy

1 Jan 2001 → …


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