Materials & Methods

I’m going to be teaching a new course this upcoming quarter on Wednesday nights called Special Topics: Materials & Methods.

The course will be cross listed as both an undergraduate (2010.553.71) and graduate course (2010.753.71) and is open to all students that have completed the sophomore core. The official description is here: http://register.rit.edu/courseSchedule/20073/20/10/553/71

The idea of the course is based on the DIY philosophy made popular by magazines such as Ready Made, and by Ellen Lupton’s book, DIY.

As a design educator, I have noticed in the past 10 years, students have really (very quickly) moved away from using materials and, well, methods, to do design work. Too often, a project is assigned, and all of the brainstorming, gestation, design development, and iterative process is forgone in place of the immediate jump to production. The computer makes this possible, and creates the illusion of iterative process. The final product suffers immeasurably, and creativity never really occurs — just production. This shortchanges the design process, and waters down design to simply a decorative art.

Why does this occur? Part of it is a byproduct of accelerated time (in which we all seem to now live). The quest for immediate gratification, shorter attention spans, and the broad availability of cheap materials has spoiled us into believing that “design” is everywhere. It really isn’t. Commerce is everywhere. Design is still, typically, difficult to find.

Too, the computer — and indeed, the mechanical age — has discounted the craft of the human hand. Buildings are now constructed from monolithic steel, and no longer from units (like the brick) that the human hand can hold. Graphic design and type are now consistantly perfect (or nearly so) whether set by a secretary or by a pseudo-celebrity designer. The message to the masses has popularized design and underscores the “everyone can do it” mindset. We as designers know this simply isn’t true.

This course is an experiment in terms of materials used, the work designed, time management, and not only pushing the envelope, but opening it, refolding it, and discovering that it can be something completely different — like a paper airplane.

Over the quarter, students will focus on developing a book that chronicles their rediscovery of materials. This book may feature previously completed work, or may be a journal of sorts that recounts the next ten weeks. Either way, the work will undoubtedly be exciting and different, well designed, and well made.

Stay tuned for details and developments.