notes

rethinking design

In a bid to challenge students to think 'beyond' self, beyond the Anthropocene and to encourage/foster an awareness of the interconnected nature of all things - projects this semester continue in much the same vein that I developed two years ago. In that sense, each program provides a scaffold for exploration, cultivation and development of a personal ethic in relation to research to better position and frame an understanding of current conditions. At its foundation, I adopt a contextual systems thinking approach to my work. Contextual in the sense that I value designers (well, emerging designers, in the classroom sense) working on projects that they are able to physically access. I find many design courses tend to promote false contexts and as such, develop nice awe inducing outcomes. They do this by encouraging student designers to 'solve problems' that are assumed to be inherently 'problematic'. A short 2010 piece by Bruce Nussbaum 'Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism' encapsulates my confusion over humanitarian projects and further reinforces why I find it important to offer student projects that are local & contextually tangible.

A summary of courses that I have designed and am convening this semester, include:

First year, digital technologies - in this course students learn about the role of technology in design, in doing so they are taught methods and ways of understanding technology as a 'tool' to better express their creative capacities. At no point do we deem the technology an icon, at all points it is regarded as a medium of expression - no different to pen and paper. We seek to breakdown these barriers by teaching students how to code basic web CSS/HTML, some 2D SVG and 3D explorations -- all while learning about the social constructs that lead to homelessness. Through this lens, students research, design and develop ways of understanding their role in society and propose methods/ways of engaging in broader discussion and debate. Technological tools are then used to express their thinking and design ideas.

Second year, rethinking methods and materials - this course seeks to teach students about materiality and the ways in which most product/design-making is structured around linear (aka broken) systems. In doing so, students learn the importance of material value, this is achieved by exploring waste streams as a place for rethinking (waste becomes raw material, it is a matter of perspective). Students embark on a journey of material discovery, this year - the project is interlinked with a social NFP community partner - this further enriches the program as the design brief is situated within a frame of designing within broader social considerations such as designing for a client with disability.

Second year, farm to fork food security project - the objective of this course is to expose students to their position, role and relationship to food systems. Unpacking the system - farm to fork - enables students to better understand how complex food systems are. Specifically, the factors that impact and influence the ways in which food waste is managed such as political, regulatory and cultural influences i.e, understanding regulatory and policy measures that prohibit effective use/re/use of food scraps in other ways.

Third year, rethinking design. This course is situated at an advanced program level and offers students an element of self-directed project opportunity. Through this program, students are exposed to the challenge of re-framing a theme by selecting a particular design approach. They can do this one of three ways (i) traditional design centric approach (seek to identify 'need' and design explicitly for this); (ii) reverse engineer a current designed artifact or service (incremental innovation); or, (iii) take a critical, speculative approach to the theme by challenging traditional assumptions by taking an anti-design approach.