Researching Design (No Google)
In this class students will learn how to research design (and by extension, almost anything). Yet the subtext is to learn how to approach research without initially, at least, turning to Internet search engines. Students’ assignment is to develop areas of study based on both personal and scholarly interests, either through historical design artifacts or found common and uncommon objects. Analysis based on first-hand interplay is essential. Subjects will be found through exploring archives, libraries, antique fairs, attics, and other venues. However, at no time shall a search engine be used to either locate or research your primary and secondary material (unless otherwise noted).
For class purposes an “object” will be broadly defined as “design(ed)” insofar as it is created and produced with a particular purpose and function. Alternatively it can also be a “vernacular” or naif entity, not necessarily designed by savvy professionals (or professionals at all) yet having a particular purpose or function. Art for art’s sake is to be avoided, unless students can make a convincing argument for its functionality in a larger context. These objects will become the basis for a research narrative—a story that includes origins, applications, consequences, etc.
Sample Class Projects:
Preliminary assignment: The Communist Manifesto. Research the history of the Communist Manifesto (not using internet search engines) and write a 300-350 word essay that critically analyzes the graphic approach(es) and why they are appropriate, inappropriate, demonstrative, or not. Address the collection as an entirety or select two or more as object lessons.
Warm-up project: The Flea Market Scavenger Hunt. For this project students are required to visit any of the flea-markets in the city or environs (see list of flea markets on Resources section of D-Crit website) to locate a significant piece of design (preferably one that is unique—i.e. no Victorian woodtype please) that will serve as the basis for your short story. Once identified, this object will become the core element for a verbal, written, and visual critique about its significance. You must describe it in relation to others in its genre and understanding the context in which it was created in a five-minute oral and “slide” presentation during class. Under no circumstances can students use any search engine for this project. However, you are permitted to use library, museum or archive databases. Email communications between you and your sources are permitted.
Semester project: Design as Protagonist. For this project students are required to focus on one or more objects from any research resource they select. The object should have resonance as either functional or ornamental design—large or small, current or vintage. This might build on their previous project or (preferably) be entirely new and unique. Students will develop an historical narrative that addresses the object’s manufacture, design, application, development, influence, and any other relevant or “dramatic” details. Over the course of the semester you will report in class on your progress in uncovering, recording, and analyzing the object and its affinities. The final presentation will be an essay and an 8-minute slide show.
Sample Class Guests:
Sam Tanenhaus, editor of New York Times Book Review and Week in Review and author of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (Modern Library).
Stuart Ewen, author of PR! A Social History of Spin, All Consuming Images: the Politics of Style In Contemporary Culture, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and Social Roots of Consumer Culture, and Typecasting: On the Arts & Science of Human Inequality.
Stephen Duncombe, professor at NYU, and author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, and Cultural Resistance Reader.
Beth Kleber, archivist School of Visual Arts Milton Glaser Archive.
Cathy Leff, Director of the Wolfsonian Museum, Miami, Florida
Glenn Horowitz, Antiquarian Book Dealer, Glenn Horowitz Bookseller
Elaine Lustig Cohen, Designer, Book Dealer, Artist, Archivist
Jeff Roth, New York Times Researcher/Morgue clerk
Eric Himmel, Editor-in-chief, Harry N. Abrams
Paul Shaw, Type archeologist and design historian