Reading Responses

For each reading assignment, respond with a short essay in which you address these questions:

  • What are the main ideas and concepts of the text?
  • How does this text connect to other readings or discussions in the course?
  • How does it connect to outside materials, e.g. related data or research, design interventions, creative works, social/cultural experiments, &c.?

You must also find at least one example or source outside the assigned reading to connect to the text and illustrate your response. To do so, please include images, videos, or other links in your post. For Readings with multiple texts, please write a single essay that encapsulates the thesis of each text and synthesizes them through your own perspective. Each response should be about 500 words.

Reading Response 1: What is Discursive Design? What is Speculative Design?
The 4 Fields of Industrial Design by Bruce M. Tharp and Stephanie M. Tharp
Speculative Everything, chapters 1-3 by Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby
Optional: Speculative Design: Criteria And Motivations by James Auger
Optional: An Evolving Map of Design Practice & Design Research by Liz Sanders

due: 5pm on 9/3

Reading Response 2: What is Capitalism? What are its Disorders?
Capitalism by James Fulcher, “What is Capitalism?” (ch 1)

Anti-Capitalism by Simon Tormey, “The Hows and Whys of Capitalism” (ch 1)
How Will Capitalism End?  by Wolfgang Streeck in New Left Review (PDF)
Optional: Historical Capitalism by Emmanuel Wallerstein, “Production of Capital,” ch 1.

due: 5pm on 9/5

Reading Response 3
Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary, chapter 4 by Dan Hill

due: 5pm on 9/10

Reading Response 4: Future Visions
Four Futures, Introduction by Peter Frase
Accelerate: A Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics by Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams
Post-Capitalism, “Project Zero” (ch 10) by Paul Mason
Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, “Post-Work Imaginaries” (ch 6) by Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams

Optional: Meltdown by Nick Land
Optional: A Rant About “Technology” by Ursula LeGuin

due: 5pm on 9/19

Reading Response 5: Building Real Utopias
readEnvisioning Real Utopias, Ch. 1-2 by Erik Olin Wright
watch: Erik Olin Wright “How to be an Anti-capitalist for the 21st Century”
WZB Distinguished Lecture in Social Sciences, October 11, 2016 at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Berlin. Notice his use of the 2×2 table for the “Strategic Logics of Anti-Capitalism”

Look more into at least one “Real Utopia” concept: Universal Basic Income (e.g. Utrecht, Finland), Participatory Institutions / Participatory Budgeting (e.g. Porto Alegre), Federated Cooperatives (e.g. Mondragon, Basque/Spain), etc. … or similar: Crowdfunding (e.g. Kickstarter), “Sharing Economy,” etc. Include discussion and/or case studies of one example in your reading response (with links, citations, stats, or images, etc) and discuss opportunities or challenges, particularly as they relate to design.

due: 5pm on 10/01

Reading Response 6: Speculative Design, or… (Just) Design?

Speculative Everything, chapter 9 by Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby
Just Design by Cameron Tonkinwise

& Choose one of the following:
Data and Political Change by David Beer (data, ownership, politics)
The Black Stack by Benjamin Bratton (planetary-scale computing and “platform geopolitics”)
Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene by Donna Harraway (feminist environmentalism, cyborg anthropology)
“James Bridle on why technology is creating a new dark age,” (technology critic artist/designer/author) by Adi Robertson in The Verge.

due: no later than 5pm on 10/3

Research Report (assigned 1st full day of class, see schedule for due dates)

You should address the following questions:

  • What are some of the broad social, cultural, political, economic, environmental issues these designers/social activists are confronting in their work?
  • What are the main ideas and concepts behind the specific works/acts you selected for the research topic?
  • How does this connect to other readings or discussions within the course?
  • How does it connect to other relevant materials or topics, not discussed in the class readings (new materials you are introducing)?

You should bring:

  • Supporting materials that help to understand and contextualize the text in form of images, quotes, and video clips. Create a slide presentation using the Portable Document Format .pdf in the resolution 1024 x 768 px.  Post the .pdf file (check the research report category and your name) to the class blog before the class presentation. You should present directly from the website using this .pdf. Link videos from directly from the .pdf
  • Notes to present the topic in about 10 minutes.
  • Questions to lead the following class discussion.

You will be evaluated based on how you describe the main concepts to your peer students in the adequate detail, how you connect them to other readings and a broader context, your supporting materials, the quality of your questions for the class discussion in the given time frame. Choose a designer/practitioner/group  or movement from the list below.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Ai Hasegawa
Alice Wang Design
Auger Loizeau (James Auger & Jimmy Loizeau)
Bernd Hopfengaertner
Chloé Rutzerveld
Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby
Hussein Chalayan
Julia Lohmann
Noam Toran
Natalie Jerimejenko
Near Future Laboratory (Nicholas Nova & Julian Bleecker)
Norman Bel Geddes
Parsons & Charlesworth (Tim Parsons & Jessica Charlesworth)
Studio PSK (Patrick Stevenson-Keating)
Paul Gong
Revital Cohen
Thought Collider (Mike Thompson & Susana Cámara Lere)
Yes Men
YiWen Tseng
Zoe Papadopoulou

Battle of Seattle & Occupy (21st c. Anti-Capitalist movements)
Environmental Anti-Capitalism
Feminist Anti-Capitalism
Participatory Budgeting (e.g. Porto Alegre)
Redneck Revolt
Unconditional Basic Income (UBI)

or… another relevant topic, movement, practice, &c. (check with instructor for relevance)

Observation of Future Possibilities Unfolding

“But the problem is that we live in a society where capitalism itself has become rampantly feral. Feral politicians cheat on their expenses; feral bankers plunder the public purse for all its worth; CEOs, hedge fund operators, and private equity geniuses loot the world of wealth; telephone and credit card companies load mysterious charges on everyone’s bills; corporations and the wealthy don’t pay taxes while they feed at the trough of public finance; shopkeepers price gouge; and, at the drop of a hat swindlers and scam artists get to practice three-card monte right up into the highest echelons of the corporate and political world.

David Harvey, Rebel Cities, p. 156

Visit a high-traffic public site in the city: Fountain Square, Washington Park, Findlay Market, Train Station, Bus Depot… Spend a few hours there. What is the space? What are its qualities? What are its components: individual objects, symbols, interfaces, social rituals, etc? What are people doing? How do they interact? With each other? With their environment? With objects in the environment? What communications are taking place? What systems are at play to make the space be as it is and the people act as they do? Consider all the explicit and implicit systems (assumptions) in place that make things the way they are.

You are looking for signs of:

  1. Symbols of “feral” capitalism (Harvey) at play in the city: Crisis, Corruption, Decay, Fraud, etc.
  2. Signs of the “erosion” of capitalism: non- or anti-capitalist political or economic activities, objects, exchanges, etc. “Weak signals” of the potential for social change, or, the seeds of new ways of being, or new political and economic experiences that have yet to flourish, or, stifled opportunities waiting to burst forth.

Observe via 100 photos (minimum). Print (small), assemble by relevant themes, bring to class. due: 9/11. BRING PRINTED PHOTOS (they can be small)

Incidental Anti-Capitalism in Design

_Research an example of design activities or other products, services, experiences, or other designed “activities” that require nearly zero or zero marginal costs—materials, labor, distribution, etc.—but generate real value.
_How could that model be expanded or extended? What other products, services, or domains of human activity could adopt or learn from this model? For example: Wikipedia has changed the way we encounter encyclopedic collections of information. Because Wikipedia is operated as a free, community-built resource, it’s difficult to imagine anybody making profit off encyclopedias.
_Describe the “incidental anti-capitalist” project, initiative, or concept, citing sources, images, or other relevant materials, in a short blog post (500 words max).

due: 9/13

Mapping the Dark Matter
Select a single object, artifact, interface, social ritual, or other tangible “thing” or “interaction” from your Observation. Research the “meta” and the “matter” to investigate those forces that have shaped how it has come to be. Interrogate the object to reveal the systems behind it.

Visualize this Dark Matter via diagrams, maps, network visualizations, information or material flows, &c. Use historical and/or contemporary case studies to make concepts concrete. Consider dark matter forces, such as “organizational culture, policy environments, market mechanisms, legislation, finance models/other incentives, governance structures, tradition and habits, local culture, national identity, the habitats, situations and events that decisions are produced within.” (Hill, 83)

Make the network of dark matter forces visible—therefore tangible, present, and accountable. As your map emerges, codify your investigation into at least 3 “tracks,” (such as economic, historic, legal, or more specific topical clusters).

Present printed/physical form on 9/19. Present revised printed/physical form ion class on 9/25 and post to class site, categorized as “_dark matter.”

first review: 9/18 // due: 9/25 

New Tech/Science Research
Research one specific new/emerging technology or pioneering/experimental science. Who is doing the research? What is is proposed to be capable of doing? What are some proposals for its applications in everyday life? What, if any, threats or cautions exist (or can you imagine) if/when this technology or science becomes “real” or widely available?

Post your findings to the class site (including relevant links, videos, images, &c.) Categorize as “_new tech research” and be prepared to share in class.

due: 9/18

Assignment 4: Speculative Vision

…Latin rhetoricians used a formula, referred to as status or stasis, for determining the point at issue in a court trial, a formula that might help students decide on a thesis. The formula consisted of three questions that were asked about the subject of dispute or discussion:

An sit (whether a thing is)-a question of fact
Quid sit (what is it?)-a question of definition
Quale sit (what kind is it?)-a question of quality

In a murder trial, for instance, the case for the prosecution and the defense could turn on one of three issues:

  1. Did Brutus, as has been alleged, kill Caesar? (an sit / whether a thing is)
  2. If it is granted that Brutus did kill Caesar, was the act murder or self-defense? (quit sit / what is it?)
  3. If it was in fact murder, was Brutus justified in murdering Caesar? (quale sit / what kind is it?)

“The application of this formula settles the issue in a trial and in turn suggests the topics that lawyers resort to in arguing their case. The use of this formula will not establish the thesis of a discourse, but it can help students determine what aspect of the subject they are going to treat, and then they are in a position to formulate a thesis.”

—Edward P. J. Corbett (1999). Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, p. 27

A speculative design project is a rhetorical tool. The thesis of an argument becomes embodied in material form.

Speculative Vision: As noted in readings and discussions, radical transformation requires a vision. This vision can set the course for developing pathways to achieve that vision—or at least move people in a new (and hopefully beneficial) direction. Craft a vision for everyday life within a post-Capitalist political economy, informed by contemporary social, cultural, political, and economic trajectories. It is inherent that the vision of this “reality” is evaluated in juxtaposition to our current conditions. Is this a new/modified world distinct from our own (an sit)? What is it (quid sit)? What kind is it (quale sit)?

Support your proposal with secondary sources plus direct and/or indirect observations, as evidenced by images, statistics, case studies, proposals, interviews, etc. Situate the particular topical terrain and “coordinates of reality” of your investigation. Create a narrative operated by distinct personas in specific scenarios to articulate your vision within human-scale everyday contexts. How has design created it, how is design used within it, how can design tell us what kind of world it is? You are creating the conditions for a new version of “reality”—defined here as the tangle of intersecting material and immaterial forces that appear to pose limits on possibility. This new “reality” will impact and be impacted by design.

Begin organizing your work in a growing 11” x 17” (landscape format) document. This will create process documentation to complement your final project.

Observe. Use your own direct observations to substantiate the Vision. How are visible trends already manifesting themselves in social behaviors, cultural shifts, economic changes, political attitudes, etc.?

Expand. Map the Dark Matter forces impacting your observation. Research the “meta” and the “matter” to investigate those forces that have shaped how it has come to be. Interrogate the object to reveal the systems behind it.

(note: you don’t need to show observation & dark matter map in your Speculative Vision presentation, unless they are particularly relevant/significant. Do compile them in your documentation. Do add or augment them in whatever ways are relevant to crafting your vision.).

Generate. “Futures Model”: Produce a 2 x 2 Matrix that intersects two dominant themes of your exploration (e.g. Frase’s intersection of Automation & Environment, you could use a series of What If… questions to populate the extremes of your two axes). At this intersection, the matrix generates multiple and potentially extreme possibilities. Choose ONE of these possibilities (one of your quadrants) to investigate further—using the others to push against it and increase specificity.

Situate. “Coordinates of Reality”: Cite 4-5 sources of Secondary Research (can be drawn from class readings, examples from your Dark Matter Mapping) to define the movements, trends, threats, or trajectories impacting your Topical Terrain. Demonstrate pathways toward this Vision that keep it Plausible, not only fictional. “…if something gets too traumatic, too violent, even too filled in with enjoyment, it shatters the coordinates of our reality—we have to fictionalize it.” Slavoj Zizek, in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. The goal is to ‘stretch’ rather than ‘shatter’ the coordinates of reality, ensuring plausible future visions rather than mere fantasy.

Project. “Catalysts”: What specific catalysts could activate this future reality, e.g. a specific technological development, political or economic change, cultural transition? Is it incremental or sudden and drastic? In particular, how might design (generally, or specific to your area of focus, e.g. Fashion) be part of this transition or transformation?

Speculate. “World-Building”: Use the generative technique of utopia/dystopia/Middletopia (an iterative tool) to describe a world in which values are made evident by the tradeoffs between goals/desires and limitations/economies. Engage absurd reduction (reduction ad absurdum) to pinpoint those values, exchanges, and tradeoffs. Try to build the entire world around a single “What if…?” question.

Narrate. “Personas & Scenarios.”Create 3 specific personas (fictional composites of character traits), describe the scenarios of their daily challenges, rituals, desires, movements, interactions, etc. Present the Speculative Vision at the scale of the human experience. How can people with very different desires co-exist within this Vision? How is society in this Vision bound or open, static or adaptable?

Visualize. Visualize this future world. Employ any visual means to “show” us what this world might look like.

 // Present your Speculative Vision (­PDF, 8 min max). You are narrating a new world for us. The steps above are your process. Your presentation is a narrative. Make your vision plausible by connecting it to coordinates of reality, align those with emerging trajectories supported by research, humanize it, visualize it, and tell us the story. Presentation DUE 10/9

Propose. Propose a Discursive/Critical/Speculative Design project that articulates everyday life in a Post-Capitalist reality as a critique of current conditions—particularly, the nature of design within Capitalism. What is the nature of Design after Capitalism? How could design bring about that Post-Capitalist reality?

As a rhetorical object (or interface, experience, environment, &c.), it should:
_Argue for the social circumstances that would produce it (system—object interdependency) while animating the social rituals or experiences that it would produce.

_Juxtapose its proposed social reality with our own to make critique of design’s contemporary relationship to technology, society, politics, culture, &c.
_Create a feedback loop with the specific discourse of it subject (e.g. algorithmic determinations of preference in politics). It should be desirable for its purpose and tell us something about its subject.
_Provoke critical reflection. Define what you’d like that critical reflection to be. What is the “preferred thinking” the object should produce in a viewer? What “preferred action”?

As a design object (or interface, experience, environment, &c.), it should:
_Resolve a novel design challenge.
_Make a convincing prototype: execution, craft, aesthetics, and manner of presentation matter.
_Make use of this invitation to experiment with material, aesthetic, technical, and procedural approaches to design. For example, “bio-textiles” are not hypothetical; experiment with growing your own. Or experiment with your working methods, e.g., don’t buy materials, only find, re-use, or exchange for them.
_Produce desire as an invitation; produce a rupture in that desire (e.g., fear, dread) to explore its implications. Desire + fear = anxiety, which can create a useful pause to think critically.

But, don’t tell us all of this information in the proposal. Work it out for yourself, so that you can make a pitch. Establish the circumstances that would make it an exciting and valuable design project for the future reality you portray.

Show us the world. Tell us how/why it could come to be. Show us what it’s like for the inhabitants (revised/updated Speculative Vision).

Propose 3 designed “things” (or experiences, environments, etc) for that world. Could be a set/family, very distinct things, or 3 stages of time (showing the transition from one form of design & society to another).

Present your Project Proposal (­PDF, 10 min max). DUE 10/16
You can work alone or in groups up to 3 people.

Design. Sketch, model, prototype, iterate, role play, test, revise & refine. The final prototype should carry as much of the future scenario in its material form. If it requires additional narrative support, consider how this will be conveyed in exhibition and beyond.

Final presentation: Thurs 12/07

End of Semester Show: Tues 12/11