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í Assignments

í Unit 7: Overview & Assignment


How can designers distill a narrative to its essence?

Unit Summary

Designers are editors, interpreters, organizers, and remixers of meaning. In this content-rich world, we have the opportunity and obligation to communicate complex narratives using curated elements and visual shorthand; to infuse new meaning and point-of-view into the old; to capture something long and layered in an instant. In this unit, you will explore methods of making —including compression, deconstruction, abstraction, and translation—with the goal of telling a familiar story in a new way.


By the end of today’s class, pick a narrative (book, film, tv show, play, etc) that you know very well. Reduce it to three collections of core elements—including (but not limited to) characters, places, events, themes, symbols, language, tropes, narrative arcs. Using the collections as content, visually represent the chosen narrative three times.

The final format of each collection is up to you, but should respond to the content (eg a set of characters might be presented in a family tree) and should not be the same form as the original narrative (ie don’t make a book about The Catcher in the Rye).


—How much can you reduce the narrative and still capture the spirit of the original text?
—How can your point-of-view about the original be conveyed through your editing/design decisions?
—How could your narrative become information/data?
—How can your final output speak to audiences familiar and unfamiliar with the original?

Learning Objectives

—Edit content down to the most important components
—Embed a point-of-view into an existing piece of content
—Communicate complexity by applying economy
—Translate something old/familiar into something new/fresh

Extended Portion

Part 1: Extend, Develop, Refine
Option A (One): Develop your favorite approach from the first week into an extended narrative.
Option B (Many): Apply your favorite approach from the first week to a series (at least three) of additional narratives.

Part 2: Present, Document, Share
Title and document, and share your project with an audience (physically and online).

Timing /Deliverables:
Week 1
Option A:
—develop your approach into 3 distinct directions
—thoughts on final format

Option B:
—full list of new narratives
—design sketches for at least 3 (include at least 3 distinct design routes)
—thoughts on final format

Week 2
—project refinements
—format prototypes
—plan for part 2

Week 3

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í Unit 6: Overview & Assignment

Question: How does form shape content? 

Unit summary: We will interpret an object by looking at it 13 different ways, thinking deeply about how its form shapes its meaning and content, and consider how form IS content in its own right. We will use Thomas McEvilley’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as the basis for exploring objects from different formal perspectives.

One Week portion:
Read Thomas McEvilley’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Then go to the RISD Museum and pick one object on display. Using the 13 points in the essay as a basis, you will create 13 interpretations of this object in graphic form (graphic form is left deliberately open, and could mean posters, stamps, words on paper, marks on paper, video, photos, etc…). Each interpretation should be its own short quick project. Each interpretation should highlight that specific “way of looking” at each object.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at an object in the RISD Museum:

  1. Content that arises from the aspect of the artwork that is understood as representational
  2. Content arising from verbal supplements supplied by the artist, designer, curator or institution
  3. Content arising from the genre or medium of the artwork
  4. Content arising from the material of which the artwork is made
  5. Content arising from the scale of the artwork
  6. Content arising from the temporal duration of the artwork
  7. Content arising from the context of the work
  8. Content arising from the work’s relationship with art history
  9. Content that accrues to the work as it progressively reveals its destiny through persisting in time
  10. Content arising from participation in a specific iconographic tradition
  11. Content arising directly from the formal properties of the work
  12. Content arising from attitudinal gestures (wit, irony, parody, and so on) that may appear as qualifiers of any of the categories already mentioned
  13. Content rooted in biological or physiological responses, or in cognitive awareness of them


Additional Readings:
Michael Rock, Designer as author
Michael Rock, Fuck Content


Learning Objectives:
– develop ways of looking deeply at the world and objects within it
– develop a more complex understanding of the relations between form and content
– develop complex ways of looking at and interpreting content
– develop habits of iteration
create a shared formal language
– create ways to approach the critique of work

Extended Portion
You will create a single work that communicates basic information (title, author, date, medium, dimension, any text available, etc…) about your selected object, along with at least two of your ways of looking. Use your one week explorations as the basis for your continued investigation, thinking about how some of these different explorations may be synthesized. Also think of what information you are communicating explicitly, and what aspects of the object you are communicating implicitly through your choice of form, typography, medium, distribution.

Week 1: Produce 3 different versions. Bring all three versions to class.
Week 2: Choose one version and refine it
Week 3: Final

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í Unit 5: Overview & Assignment

How can a minute be defined by the designer and clearly understood by the viewing audience?

TIME is one of the fundamental constructs of human experience. As designers, it is an essential in shaping both our processes and our products. We communicate by creating hierarchies — how a viewer encounters a sequence of events, how long it takes the eye to scan a fixed two dimensional surface (an image, text, diagram, etc.), the pacing and order in which our designs are viewed—all of these considerations are the foundation for constructing creative and dynamic visual communication.

The role of time in Graphic Design continues to expand and contract in all sorts of ways. There is more to comprehend, less time to spend on each encounter, greater networks to span, and larger audiences to reach.

Learning objectives:
– Perception: To develop a critical awareness of how time affects the reading of a design.
– Framing: To understand how framing (composition, in particular) affects meaning.
– Editing: To play with sequencing as a critical component to narrative
– Production: To be subjected to and practice with movie editing software

How can a minute be defined by the designer and clearly understood by the viewing audience? Make a video that lasts anywhere between 45 seconds and 1 minute and 30 seconds; QuickTime FORMAT (.MOV; H.264; 720p)
Movies should ideally be less than 100MB, with dimensions no larger than 1280×720.
Movies larger than 250MB will be rejected.
Movies should follow this naming convention: instructorlastname_yourusername.mov (ex: wedell_jpark01.mov)
Your name and instructor’s name should also appear at the beginning of your film.
Kickoff: November 17th
First Review: November 24th in section
Final presentations: December 1st
NOTE: Deliver videos to John Sunderland (3rd floor Type Shop) by 1PM MONDAY NOVEMBER 30th

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í Unit 4: Overview & Assignment


How can collaboration be a catalyst for making?


Collaboration is important across many fields of creative work and the discoveries made through it can be invaluable. This unit promotes methods that emphasize teamwork, spontaneity and responsiveness. You will see how methods of shared creativity can produce a form of knowledge that is experiential and intuitive.

Students will develop a discrete visual vocabulary and system. These systems will then be shared with all DS1 students to create a shared lexicon that may be mined endlessly. We will recontextualize, synthesize, transform and conspire, working in and on top of each other’s work. We will build on remix practices, which blur distinctions between invented and borrowed work.



After introducing this unit each student is given a word. Use this word as a starting point for inspiration and media to be explored.

Next build a complex set of visual parts (total: 50) to share with all students in DS1.

Use this assignment as an opportunity to develop a language of personal symbolism.

Use any available resource found and/or self-authored: photos, scans, drawings, video, etc. Your visual vocabulary will include but not be limited to: shape, perspective, color, line weight, scale, foreground/background, level of abstraction, etc.

This unit is structured to provide an opportunity to collaborate and extend the process of design from self to collective.

You will design 2 posters that are due week one of this unit. (printed or pdf)

  1. Highlights and applies all 50 visual parts that you created.
  2. Create a hybrid that borrows/appropriates visual parts from the collective. Use any module of your choosing.


Determine methods, techniques, media, etc. you plan to work with. Explore and perform studies using a variety of 2D and 3D materials and processes. Look at ways of hybridization and translating one medium into another. (Physical and Digital)

  • – Create a set of visual parts. (possibly interchangeable)
  • – Explore a variety of tools and processes. (at least 5)
  • – Explore (at least 10) different form factors. (refer to posted list)
  • – Be exhaustive, create multiples, aim for quantity and variety.
  • – Carefully consider contrast, figure/ground, composition and gestalt principles.
  • – Be economical with the combination of elements. Reduce to basic elements.
  • – They should work together as a system (similar scale, level of detail, grid, etc.)
  • – Screen grabs and stills may be taken from video and motion work.


You will receive an invitation via email to a shared Google Drive. Save your set of parts to the Google Drive in preparation to share with classmates by Noon on Saturday, October 31st, 2015.

  • – Group all vectors into one Illustrator file.
  • – Save images as individual jpg files. Scale should be at least 4 x 4 inches, 300 dpi.
  • – Use this format for naming and numbering of files: email username_1.jpg
  • – Present (2) 30 x 42 inch designed posters
  • – Display at the beginning of class on Tuesday, November 3rd


For this part of the assignment you will work in pairs.

Create a poster diptych that is a response and reinterpretation of your partners work. Expand it through analysis and experimentation. Recontextualize, synthesize, transform and conspire, refine the system, work in and on top of each other’s work. This process can shift your thinking and may uncover unforeseen relationships.

  • – Consider exploring methods of sorting, adding and subtracting.
  • – Look at ways to connect seemly-unrelated ideas.
  • – Visual responses during this phase of the assignment may totally transform.
  • – 2 posters (diptych) 30 x 42 inch due: Tuesday, November 10th

Working together in section:

  1. Dissect week one’s outcome. What themes emerged?
  2. What methods and mediums were most successful?
  3. Does your partner’s work contrast or compliment yours?
  4. What methods of your own devising will you continue to employ? Can you achieve a successful hybrid?
  5. Will you enhance or destroy?
  6. Look for relationships between things to see what emerges. What are the commonalities?
  7. How can you creatively combine and connect totally disparate elements? Taking something out of a context and placing it into another, demonstrates how meaning is fixed and how meaning is unfixed when location is changed. What does it mean in its new situation?
  8. Analyze outcomes, transform, hybridize, change parameters, explore in depth.
  9. How does working collaboratively alter your approach?

Week Two Critique in Section:

  1. How were your original intentions interrupted?
  2. How was work transformed by the conversation?
  3. Do you feel ownership of something that was not originally yours?
  4. Take note of benefits and pitfalls.
  5. Were your results consistent or were there pivotal moments?


Martin Venezky, Sol Lewitt, Stephen Wolfram, Karel Martens, Barry McGee, Miranda July






Collaborative working methods, Flexibility, Intuition, Spontaneity, Respect and Trust, Working with Constraints, Fragmentation, Gestalt, Abstraction, Appropriation, Conveying ideas through minimal means, Explore processes and media, Hybridization/working across platforms, Representation and Meaning

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í Unit 3: Overview & Assignment

How can the graphic medium enhance and enrich the verbal message?

In our engagement with the world around us, and our routine to “make sense” out of complexity, we take for granted the perceptual and holistic principles this interaction involves. That perception of parts and configurations as a holistic system, or language, depends greatly on the use of socalled “gestalt” principles (i.e., figure-ground, similarity, closure, etc.) and how these serve the purpose to communicate. Since graphic design presents ideas primarily via graphic means, awareness of these perceptual principles is critical for designers to help their products stimulate clarity and unity, curiosity and interest, inquiry and insight. We will look into this power of graphic design to discover how an abstract (non-visual) object like a “word” (a verbal means to represent an idea) can be enriched significantly toward a deep sense of poetic insight due to its graphic/visual delivery, and thus provide a lasting impression of value for the ideas it holds.

Learning objectives:
— Develop visual sensibilities
— Learn about “gestalt” principles and their holistic system as “language”
— Observe the power of the visual to affect the non-visual
— Develop mind-mapping skills
— Become aware of the practice to design for experience

Download the assignment as pdf
Download the lecture notes as pdf

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í Unit 2: Overview & Assignment


Andy Goldsworthy, Storm King Sculpture Park


I suspect no landscape, vernacular or otherwise, can be comprehended
unless we perceive it as an organization of space; unless we ask ourselves
who owns or uses the spaces, how they were created, and how they change.
—John Brinkerhoff Jackson



Although graphic design exists in a multitude of spaces, places, and surfaces, it is too often seen as a two-dimensional enterprise. But in fact our work is entirely multi-dimensional. Not only do we design places, wayfinding systems, and exhibits, we also design information environments, complex digital networks, and social interfaces. Moreover, what we produce exists in real time, and real space, used by real people in all dimensions. Designers are experts at reading signs and signals within any situation, large or small. We analyze and record given characteristics, and intervene to change or improve upon circumstances. Design is nearly always engaged with altering, or re-organizing, or improving upon, a given circumstance or set of circumstances, whether at a macro or micro scale.

Lawrence Weiner



Humans are hard-wired to read signs and signals in any given situation. As we move through our environments, we intuitively and unconsciously look for comfort, safety, and elements that are of value or pertain to us. We avoid danger and discomfort. We are egocentric, but we are also intelligent and quick to read our surroundings. We “read” all manner of spatial form, color, tone, temperature, sensation, sounds, and any number of other characteristics of a place almost instantaneously. We are extremely perceptive and are inclined to find meaning in most things. In this Unit, we will be looking at how we “read” spaces and places, and we will explore how we might intervene upon existing spaces. Our interventions will be a form of discovery — a process for understanding contrasts, narrative, form, and the human desire to form interpretations. As we work for the next two weeks, we will discuss in our sections how we define place; how a place relates to its surroundings; how we embrace the culture of a place, large or small, or how we might subvert its histories and realities.

Jess Greenfield Site Intervention 3
Jessica Greenfield, RISD MFA alum


Unit Question: How can you alter an existing space (site)?

Additional questions:
-How can you truly “know” a place?
-By altering a site, can you create a new narrative read of the site?
-How does the way you approach the alteration, and the way you frame your documentation of the intervention, affect the “read” of your site.
-How can you document, sequence, and explain your site interventions to create a narrative out of the documentation?

A designed sequence/presentation (media is open) of your documentation that explains your sites and your alterations to a public audience (us).

Learning Objectives:
1) Getting to know your city and environs.
2) Develop a consciousness about how we define space, place, site, landscape, culture, audience, community
3) Exploration of how formal elements work together, whether in contrast or concord; harmony or discord.
4) Developing resourcefulness around finding unusual and surprising materials or objects to bring to a site for the creation of a new or alternative “read.”
5) Developing an awareness of the power of the artifact/after-the-fact documentation. “How to tell a story for those who werent there.”


  1. You must choose two sites.
    One must be an intentionally built / urban / public / site. Outdoors.
    One must be a natural (relatively unbuilt or naturally occurring) environment.
    (for example, the RISD’s Tillinghast farm, or (walking distance) Swan Point Cemetery’s woods, or Lincoln Woods State Park, or Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton.)
  2. You must deliberately and attentively get to know your two sites. You should record all manner of characteristics pertaining to your sites. Using photography and other recording techniques, take note of the site’s characteristics, forms, materials, textures, sensations, light, uses, users, sounds, temperatures, intentions. You can also consider cultures, histories, stories, pasts, futures. What was the site. Does it have a past? A future? What can it be? Get to know these two places thoroughly. Think Macro and Micro. Record context and adjacencies. Record edges and boundaries. Record before and after your alterations.

Pay attention to how you frame your recordings/images. How you light or edit your images. How will your technique affect the way an audience might understand your site’s inherent narrative. Show us how you want us to see the site. Show us how the site communicates.

Before the next class meeting you must alter your two spaces in the following ways, and create carefully considered documentary images and recordings:

Transform or intervene upon an existing, built, urban space/place

1) Intervene with color  (material is open)

2) Intervene with multiples (more than 25)

3) Intervene with something singular

4) Intervene with language / text / type

Transform or intervene upon a natural space/place:

1) Intervene with language or color or multiples or other items you bring to the place

2) Intervene only with things that you find at the site

RECORD EVERYTHING (photo, video, sound, drawing)

Joe Y 5_IMG
RISD GD Student Work

Design your Documentation

for 10/6/15
Bring to class a multitude of images and evidentiary records/documents and begin building a sequential narrative that can communicate to those who were not there exactly what took place; what they might find there if they could be there. Media is open but the sequence of your narrative and how you show a visual flow is to be considered.

for 10/13/15
Bring in refined presentations of your interventions in a narrative sequence of images and texts as needed. These need to resonate with your audience (all of us) in a public viewing, and help us understand the whole sequence of your space alterations.

Required Reading:
Lucy Lippard Lure of the Local
Brief overview of Maya Lin’s work Here

RISD Second Life
Resources/Recycling for RI Education

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í DS1 Reflective Notes

Reflective Tasks

Tom O’s: notes for regular “reflective” practice

Write Daily/ Weekly Reflective Notes:
Knowing (learning) evolves from a dynamic interplay between experience and reflection.
Reflection deepens awareness and insight.

Therefore, make it a daily practice to nurture reflective practice via written notes on your course (this one or others) work and readings: your curiosities, interests, questions for inquiry, delights, challenges, observations, experiences.

Create a quiet moment (if only for a few minutes!), for to act from a quiet mind fosters true insight.
Write spontaneously.
Write, but also feel free to add visual notes, as needed.

Savor this experience of insight.

ALSO: each week share one or more of your reflective notes on work for this course,
via our course blog, and with your section faculty via email!.

Sharing your “insights” allows us (faculty) to be more informed of you:
your interests, thinking and processing of ideas.
Meant as “nothing to prove” but as evidence of your attention to your work, don’t expect a response/critique.

Don’t belabor the task (this is not an English class, not a thesis, not a test!).
Keep writing effortless and simple, in topic and style.
No need to impress anyone with excessive facts or knowledge.

Use any writing style that feels comfortable and natural to you.

Simply practice this reflective mode with sincerity.

NOTE: This practice will also help you toward the final course requirement,
which is to create a Reflective Process Book about your work and what you learned in this course.

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í Unit 1: Due week 3

In your group meetings today, you should have honed in on the most striking observations and/or recordings. For next week, focus your attention on a singular curiosity and create five forms (but not necessarily objective) that communicates the value of your attention in that area.

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í Unit 1: Day 1, In-class

8.6"x11.0" a little soft, sharpen?

The Bohemian Dinner, Charles Greene Shaw

Head out to the Independence Trail. Choose a spot and through close looking and careful observation, make as long of a list as possible that describes what you see. What are all the ways you can describe both big and small, natural and man-made, temporary and permanent, boring and extraordinary? At what point do your observations depart from what is objectively there to associations/opinions from the point of view of the maker. Make note of those as well.

Come back before the end of class. If there’s time, split into groups of 3 or 4 and read through/share your lists. Make sure you choose a spot and start.

Your text document should take the form of a hand-written list on letter-sized paper so that it can be share with your groupmates and pushpinned on the wall at the end of class for general class or small group review. The exercise should demonstrate the range of possible observations and start to suggest where value lies in the everyday urban observation. How objective and subjective are the observations, and what ideas arise from any of it? Camera phone your list and place on Google Drive/website (what your instructor suggests) by the end of the unit.

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í Unit 1: Due week 2

Pick one spot in the city and begin to think of it as yours. It doesn’t matter where, and it doesn’t matter what. A street corner, a subway entrance, a tree in the park. Go to to your spot every day at the same time. Spend an hour watching everything that happens to it, keeping track of everyone who passes by or stops or does anything there. Take notes, take photographs. Make a record of these daily observations and see if you learn anything about the people, or the place, or yourself.
—‘The Rules of the Game,’ Paul Auster to Sophie Calle

Let’s play by Paul Auster’s rules. Choose one of the 50 spots on Providence’s “Independence Trail” as your spot. The historic significance of the Independence Trail serves as a note of possible contrast with what you will see in today’s Providence, but for the most part, it’s a system of spots.

You are learning to work with what already exists, before you do anything. Using all of the following recording techniques, create an exhaustive amount of documentation of the area surrounding your spot (100 documents minimum). You may move from your spot to record or further inspect, but limit your field of attention to what you can see from the spot you choose from the below map. Note the word exhaustive is meant to force you to deeply engage with your area. Go to your spot a minimum of three times for at least an hour each time. As far as recording, some media may make more sense than others based on what grabs your attention. Notes may work better than images in some places or cases (nighttime). Be sure to spend a good deal of time not recording anything at all. A recording is often the result of seeing not a mediator of what you see. Experiment with all of the following:

  • Photography (in all its permuatations)
  • Diagrams
  • Sketches
  • Lists
  • Narrative paragraph
  • Audio
  • Video
  • iPhone apps?

Present your findings to your classmates in section at the start of class next week in an organized fashion. Pin up what can be pinned up, have a laptop out for digital assets, make sketches visible, etc. We will look at the results briefly as a group, then work in smaller groups to discuss how well the forms you made are communicating what you saw. Address this line of questioning when you show your work: What did you notice of value? What did you decide to share? How did the way you recorded and shared your observation make sense given what you saw and what you want to say?

Everyone should be set up by the beginning of class.

This first unit is meant to kickstart best practices and ongoing forms that you will use in the next two years. Buy and begin using a sketchbook (letter-sized or smaller), set up a blog (specifically for this class, not Instagram or Pinterest… tumblr is ideal) and begin to reflect and document your experiences in a way that will make your final documentation go smoothly.

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