A filing cabinet on the internet by Rob Giampietro

Antithesis 1

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.


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.

One-week projects

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.

  1. Using the laws of modern handwriting analysis, modify an existing typeface to have the attributes of a liar’s script.

  2. Using the Handbook of Regular Patterns, design at least five wallpaper samples for the home or HQ of a major historical person or group.

  3. Make a map of your routes through the city during the next five days.

  4. Curate a timeline that includes all major projects from Parsons as well as all of your major visual influences.

  5. Design a mail-order catalog for the sale of everything in your bedroom.

  6. Write, photograph, and design a travel guide to the Eighth Floor of 2 W 13th St.

  7. Make a presentation that explains a well-known psychology experiment. Think of Milgram, Skinner, Rosenhan, Festinger, Harlow, Kandel, and many others.

  8. Design a game for one player. Explain and document the process of playing it in book form.

  9. Organize and photograph either all the books in your library, all the clothes in your closet, or all the items in your pantry, whichever is most numerous.

  10. Create and install a public sign that alters typical communication patterns in its space. Document the installation.

  11. Design and place three ads for a very close friend using typography found exclusively at the supermarket.

  12. Design a complete alphabet out of things that were once alive.

  13. Typeset 6 versions of your résumé per day over the next 5 days. Do not try to express yourself. Do not create a logo for yourself. Do not use more than 2 fonts per design.

  14. Create posters for a film series with 11 films: M, FX, Big, Jaws, Psycho, Casino, Titanic, Clockers, Chinatown, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane.

  15. Either eavesdrop or keep a diary for five days, and, on the sixth day, use this language to create a poster in A1 format.

  16. Design a logo of your own name based on photographs you’ve taken in New York City.

  17. Design a small book of around 16 pages that tells a joke.

  18. Using the only the words from a TV commercial, design a type-only story-board or small book.