Teaching: Cultures of Design, Or Design and Everyday Life

This is my third year teaching in the southern hemisphere and it still feels strange to be kicking off the academic year in March! I teach one third-year course this trimester, called Cultures of Design–but if I could rename it, I’d call it Design and Everyday Life. Here are the highlights:

Course description
Original and world-changing design was long considered the product of solitary geniuses, masters and heroes, but recent research has argued that cultural innovation is often the result of everyday actions by ordinary people. This course critically and creatively examines the dynamic and collaborative networks that characterise professional and amateur design today, and prepares students to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Course aims
Building on multi-disciplinary approaches explored in CCDN 231 and CCDN 271, this course aims to situate creativity, design and innovation within everyday lived experience. With a focus on critical practice and practical criticism, students will be introduced to social and cultural theories of everyday life and ethnographic methods that can help them understand and explain design in a variety of ordinary cultural contexts. Lectures will introduce students to important concepts in design and cultural studies, and a variety of films, readings, discussions and activities will support further exploration and engagement. Ultimately, students will learn to apply this knowledge through the research and presentation of three artefact ethnographies that critically and creatively evaluate material, visual and discursive culture.

Course content
The course comprises eight interconnected topics of study:

  • practices of everyday life;
  • object culture;
  • aesthetics and ethics;
  • creativity and innovation;
  • professionals and amateurs;
  • technology and media;
  • speculative design; and
  • possible futures for co-creation.

Each topic will introduce theoretical concepts and related methodological approaches to understanding, doing and explaining design in cultural context. Assignments will require the application of this knowledge to the critical and creative assessment of design in everyday life, and design as everyday life.

Course assignments
To complete this course, students are required to submit and present three original artefact ethnographies, as well as one revised artefact ethnography.

Ethnography involves the systematic exploration, examination and presentation of social and cultural phenomena that make up the lives of people across space and time. Artefacts—objects designed and created by people—have always been central to the expression and experience of everyday life, and can be used as platforms for social and cultural commentary. Artefact ethnographies combine analytical and creative work to explain the social and cultural dimensions of designed objects in everyday life.

Assignment 1: Something Past
For this assignment, each student will select an individual artefact, a class of artefacts, or a single collection of artefacts in order to critically and creatively engage PAST social and cultural phenomena, and how they relate to people, places, objects and/or ideas that exist now or may exist in the future.

Assignment 2: Something Present
For this assignment, each student will select an individual artefact, a class of artefacts, or a single collection of artefacts in order to critically and creatively engage PRESENT social and cultural phenomena, and how they relate to people, places, objects and/or ideas that existed in the past or may exist in the future.

Assignment 3: Something Future
For this assignment, each student will imagine an individual artefact, a class of artefacts, or a single collection of artefacts in order to critically and creatively engage FUTURE social and cultural phenomena, and how they relate to people, places, objects and/or ideas that existed in the past or exist in the present.

Assignment 4: Revised Artefact Ethnography
For this assignment, each student is required to revise and resubmit their favourite artefact ethnography. With student permission, the Course Coordinator and tutors will select up to five artefact ethnographies for submission to the Material World blog.

The submission format is open, but each artefact ethnography must include a 1000-1250 word written component based on a relevant and appropriate combination of academic literature review, observation, creative writing, photography, drawing, video-making, web design, audio recording and/or object creation.

To get started, students are required to complete the following task (adapted from The Exercise Book) for the first tutorial:

1) Go for a walk with a notebook and pay close attention to what’s going on around you.

2) Compose one written page with three sections. Start the first section with “I see…”, the second section with “I remember…” and the third section with “I imagine…”.

Image credits: “Remade” household objects by Jennifer Collier