This seminar aims to provide an intense and enjoyable orientation towards reading and writing for practicing designers. In the course of the seminar we will focus on the activity of reading and experiment with different forms of writing and with the material and social circulation of our discourse. It’s a chance for designers to step outside of the constraints of studio work, to ask questions and build concepts that may be directed back towards worlds of practice, design and otherwise.
One concrete curricular hope is that through the course of this work you might make a provisional formulation of a thesis, or set of theses, to be tested and developed in the spring. More concretely, the hope is that you will produce writing this semester from which you can build a longer essay in the future. The ultimate goal of the course is to give you a foothold — a critical orientation towards both design and the practice of writing — from which you can not only build a possible thesis project, but develop your own practice in new ways.
The seminar will be organized around the reading of a set of heterogeneous texts that develop themes related to design, media, pedagogy, politics, and other things. The reading list is open to change and will reflect readers’ desires as they emerge in the course. This seminar is an experiment in what might happen when “silly” designers closely read and intensely engage with “serious” texts.
We will spend a lot of our time talking together about what we’ve read. It can be a rare experience to read and discuss without the burden of making and producing: we will think about ways we can convivially construct a space for this free activity of discourse, for this amateur hour for critical theory.
(One of the secondary aims of the course is to introduce students to the sort of heterogenous anti-disciplinary writing that contemporary designers abundantly produce — by editing, designing, publishing in independent networks. It will be fun to read these texts.)
As you read each week’s text, keep a log of words you encounter that are new to you and/or that strike you as especially important: words you’ve never read before or words that seem to be doing a special kind of work in the writing in which they appear, a sort of discursive work that depends on a prior understanding. We might call these codewords, or keywords. Each week log around five of these in our shared class document. Enter the word and the sentence in which the word appears. As we construct this list of words, we will be particularly attentive to the repetitions of keywords in multiple readings. We’ll call this our glossary.
We will write every week and experiment with diverse short forms of exposition — polemics, reviews, letters, slogans, hypertexts, dialogues, etc. We might imagine writing as itself an activity governed by design.
In each writing exercise we will give attention not simply to the content of our writing but also to its form. We might begin to understand writing as itself a process of design, rather than as something to its side or above it. In these writing experiments, we will consider voice, tone, but also structure. We will practice with writing as something that is as deliberate, formal, and experimental as design.
Writing, among other things, can be understood as a technique to engender the sense of a “self.” As you work out different styles of writing, as you compose a “voice” or voices in response to our readings, we’ll think about how material, graphic, and aesthetic dimensions of writing can also help constitute this voice or self — a voice or a self that didn’t exist previously — and one that is always in relation with other selves and voices. Can we write in a collective voice, in plural voices? Can we self-publish for selves that multiple and mutable?
Each week before class, you will print five copies of your writing exercise. You’ll keep one, give one to me, and give the others to different students in the class. In this way we can learn what our classmates are writing about and begin to establish a dialogue. We will practice writing in relation to each other as a community of readers. Everyone wlll keep an archive of everything they produce and receive.
An emphasis this semester will be on the material conditions of our reading and writing. This “concrete” dimension of discourse is something that we might, as designers, intuitively grasp the importance of.
You should aim to identify a thematic thread for your writing by midterm, something that will orient and organize your writing for the rest of the semester
Each class two students will introduce the week’s reading. These students should be prepared to walk us through the various points of the reading and, especially, to point us towards passages that might open up discussion. These passages can be ones that especially interested you and/or ones that seemed unclear. Discussion is huge part of this seminar. We are practicing not only how to write but how to talk about design.
We will be attentive to a sort of ethics of discussion:
- Let’s build a dialogue.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Be generous and compassionate in your responses.
- Strive for clarity.
- Feel free to talk about something you’re not yet sure of.