GRCD 3021-001: Design Systems 1 / Fall 2018
Mondays/Wednesdays 2:00p–4:50p
Aronoff 6450C
Professor: Matthew Wizinsky
Office Hours: By appointment

Course Description
The purpose of this course is interdisciplinary, bringing together students from within the design programs and/or other academic programs to collaborate on projects addressing current human issues or industry related research. Students work in teams to gain understanding of group dynamics by developing negotiation and decision-making skills through critical reflection, evaluation, and analysis. Students work towards jointly defined objectives and meeting performance criteria by integrating disparate, yet necessary, complementary knowledge and skill sets. Course work follows a common sequence of exploratory research, concept generation using participatory and co-design methods, and user feedback to evaluate design concepts. Course format includes lecture, discussion, interim/final presentations, and documentation of the research and design process.  

Student Learning Outcomes
Students completing this course will be able to:
* Work and understand team dynamics by developing negotiation and decision-making skills through critical reflection, evaluation, and analysis of multi-disciplinary collaborative design processes.
* Distill research findings and user feedback to develop innovative concepts using participatory and co-designing methods.
* Articulate proposed concepts and strategies through effective presentations and written documentation.  

Course Overview
In this interdisciplinary design studio, we will take up the challenge of imagining new ways of being in the city through the methods, artifacts, and provocations of design. By taking a speculative design approach to understanding and responding to contemporary urban conditions, we will cast future visions of urban life that simultaneously reflect our current struggles, concerns, and values. More specifically, we will imagine what urban life might be like after capitalism and how design will play a role in shaping everyday life for a very different social and economic reality. The grounding of this topic is best articulated by the results of a 2016 Harvard Institute of Politics poll, in which 51% of 18 to 29 year-old Americans polled said they do not support Capitalism (42% said they support Capitalism, 33% said they support Socialism).(1) It is precisely in a space where the present conditions are undesirable but there are no clear alternatives that Speculative Design can be valuable for exploring and making material proposals for different possibilities.

To say that we are designing for a period “after capitalism,” means we are imagining 1) That Capitalism might end and why, and 2) What would come After, meaning thinking about how it would transition into and produce a new political economy. How might we re-imagine the city, its spaces and flows, its systems and interfaces, its artefacts and social rituals, as a whole new possibility “on the ruins of destructive capitalist urbanization.” (2)

The city (this city, any city, or “urban” spaces in general) is the site of dense and plural ways of being, as individuals and as the variety of loosely organized collectives that form a society. Within a city, we can examine an aggregation of diverse but overlapping ways of being: from different approaches to dealing with the challenges of sustenance and survival to the multifaceted ways in which we individually and collectively work, play, produce, consume, socialize, find solitude, relax, stress out, fall in love, fall out of love, go mad, die, become leaders, follow leaders, and do all the other wild, beautiful, and atrocious things that humans do. Many forces, both explicit and implicit, drive and inspire these ways of being, including those that produce conflict, uncertainties, anxiety—even occasionally, sublime joy—in everyday life.

Design revels in the invention of everyday life. A primary goal of designers is to produce or alter (maybe sometimes even for the better) those conditions that constitute everyday life. In this sense, all design activities are speculative in that they anticipate that which is yet-to-be and then work toward the production of it. This work takes form through interpreting, configuring, re-configuring, and re-purposing the present—existing environments, objects, and sign systems as well as emerging technology, science and social/cultural/political movements—to anticipate the future of everyday life.

Yet, the designer’s task is always also in some ways adversarial, against the grain or status quo and the myriad explicit or dark hidden forces that hold systems static or push them into chaos. To rupture or disturb these systems, we can articulate our hopes and anxieties for the future through designed “things” that are simultaneously telling of the present. The processes and outputs of design produce the tools and systems that mediate the individual’s relationship to society and the prevailing cultural and political ideas of the time. Objects, artifacts, environments, designed experiences, sign and symbol systems, and other designed “things” all serve to shape our understanding of our selves and our social/cultural/political values.

Design need not be trapped in service to current production-consumption models, perpetuating the incredible inequalities and destruction they produce. Design is well suited to making material arguments for new political, social, and cultural realities. Let’s do it!


  2. David Harvey. Rebel Cities. pg. 156

Your final grade is a result of the intellectual and aesthetic qualities and craft of projects, rigorous effort given to the exercises, participation in class discussion, reading responses and presentations, participation in team-based projects, attendance, and a consistent demonstration of effort and understanding regarding the course concepts.

Your final grade will be comprised of:
Reading Responses (10%)
Dark Matter (10%)
Speculative Vision (10%)
Research Presentation (20%)
Final Project (40%)
Class Participation (10%)

An A (90–100%) will be given for work of consistently exceptional quality and craft, along with the demonstrated quality of research and investigation which produced those results, as evidenced through the final work book, class participation, and attendance.

A B (80–89%) will be given for work of overall good quality and craft, along with the final work book, class participation, and attendance demonstrative of a consistent understanding and application of the concepts being presented.

A C (70–79%) will be given for work of average quality and craft, and the minimum amount of research done to complete the projects and/or an inconsistent demonstration of understanding the concepts being presented and/or poor attendance.

A D (60–69%) will be given for work that is of poor quality and craft and/or consistently poor attendance or lack of class participation.

An F (failure) will be given for work of little quality, missing or incomplete projects, missing critiques and/or consistently poor attendance or lack of class participation.

Please refer to the University grading scale for more information.

Attendance is mandatory and required to gain the required skills for successful completion of the course. Two unexcused absences may result in a reduction of the final grade by ½ letter grade, three unexcused absences by 1 letter grade. Four or more unexcused absences will be grounds for failing the course. It is generally recommended to drop the course with more than four absences.

Late arrivals are very disruptive for other participants. Being late to class two times will count as one unexcused absence. There will be a sign-up sheet for each class meeting. It is the student’s responsibility sign in for each class; this is the basis for your attendance record.

Students will need to use their own laptop computers, required design software, and any other tools or materials necessary for developing their projects. If you don’t already, make sure to get a USB drive or external hard-drive. Always back up your files. Loss or damage of data or files is NOT an acceptable explanation for late or missing assignments.

Your files are your responsibility!

Time spent in the classroom will be dedicated to presentation, discussion and collaborative and self-directed studio work. Any other activities or behavior not conducive to our coursework will not be tolerated. Prohibited activities during class time include use of cell phones for talking or texting, surfing the web or social media for unrelated purposes (no facebook, no tweeting!), private conversations amongst students, rude or insulting language or behavior, and any other form of distraction from the tasks at hand. Eating in the class room is prohibited. Drinks are allowed in covered containers only.

We have a lot of exciting work to do, and our time together is valuable. Let’s make the most of it.

Additional Info
Student Code of Conduct
Special Needs Policy
Academic Conduct & Plagiarism
Title IX / anti-harassment & anti-discrimination
Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

Full Syllabus