As Communication Designers, we are asked to have a tremendous number of technical and analytical skills at our disposal to communicate information that is unfamiliar to us in ways that are unfamiliar to our clients. Designing maps, magazines, typefaces, and posters are all very different skills requiring different tools and a deep understanding of how certain forms favor certain kinds of content when others do not. Successful designs and designers not only understand these problems themselves but manage to communicate them to their audiences.
The majority of the classes in the first few years of Communication Design are geared toward teaching these critical design skills in a cumulative way. In Typography, for example, projects are assigned one-at-a-time to gain an understanding of how letters are made, then words, and then the printed page. A class in Book or Publication Design allows for experimentation within the bounds of these forms by first explaining our expectations from them as an audience.
In the last few years, you have been faced with millions of micro-decisions about how you relate to these forms and strategies of design. A class on strict Information Design, for example, may have left you feeling comfortable with extremely refined typesetting, or it may have reinforced a sense that you work best with more intuitive, gestural solutions. The point of making these micro-decisions on project after project is to build up something like an instinctive method for taking apart communication problems in a visual way. Many designers call this instinctive method their design “process.”
In the Senior Thesis, your process (which is always evolving) was put to the test for the first time in a major way when you had to use it to grapple with a communication problem of your own devising. However, as different as this project may have seemed in terms of its requirements, the Senior Thesis was still, like the classes before it, cumulative and methodical. It began with a diagnostic (What are you interested in?), continued with an initial problem (How will you find out more about it?), and concluded with a bigger challenge (How will you present your learning to others?).
The real world is a much messier place. Designers are seldom given three weeks (let alone fifteen) to focus on any single problem, and problems are not defined around gaining skills but by desired outcomes. A typical designer may be working on several different projects at once, some interesting and some not, all requiring different skills and innovative solutions. What designers fall back on again and again is their process.
Like the Senior Thesis, this class will allow you to continue an investigation of your design process. But, unlike the Senior Thesis, this class will apply real-world constraints to your process. Your task will be to tackle nine one-week design challenges that are outcome-specific. Some of your solutions will be successes; some will be failures. All of the projects are designed to teach you more about your process. In the end, you will choose three of the projects to refine and complete. Along the way, we will continually engage the world around us and our relationship to it.
Instructor’s note: Though this class only has nine one-week projects, I have an ever-growing pool of projects do draw from, depending on how the class is doing, individual needs, and my own intuition. They tend to be very simple, short, and open-ended. At least a few are adapted from some of the great teachers I’ve had over the years.
18 One-Week Projects
The nine weekly projects (P1-P9) will be graded as High Pass, Pass, and Fail. Each of these projects are worth 5% of the total grade, meaning that all nine are worth a combined 45% of the grade. From these nine projects, each student will select three to refine during the five refinement weeks in the schedule. These three “final” projects will be worth an additional 15% each, combined for a total of 45%. The final 10% of your grade will be based on attendance and classroom participation, particularly during critique.
Visitors will add their new perspectives and insight to our thesis class and will function in a variety of capacities. They may lead critiques, attend individual meetings, give an artist’s talk, or direct a small workshop or charette. You will be advised in advance of their participation in class. Attendance for these sessions is mandatory.
From time to time, we will go on trips as a class to stimulate discussion and response, and in order to view our classwork in a broader context. You are encouraged to suggest possible outings and contribute to shaping this class as you see fit.
(P# = Project #)
- Class 1: Introductions and general info. Assign P1.
- Class 2: P1 Critique. Assign P2.
- Class 3: P2 Critique.
- Class 4: Field Trip. Project Refinement Week 1. Assign P3.
- Class 5: P3 Critique. Assign P4.
- Class 6: P4 Critique.
- Class 7: Individual Meetings (Portfolio Review). Project Refinement Week 2. Assign P5.
- Class 8: P5 Critique.
- Class 9: Project Refinement Week 3.
- Class 10: Field Trip. Project Refinement Week 4. Assign P6.
- Class 11: P6 Critique. Assign P7.
- Class 12: P7 Critique. Assign P8.
- Class 13: P8 Critique.
- Class 14: Individual Meetings (Portfolio Review). Project Refinement Week 5. Assign P9.
- Class 15: P9 Critique.
- Class 16: Open house and individual meetings. Three final projects due.
This class was first given in spring 2005 at Parsons School of Design in New York.