Design & Politics
This course explores the overlap between design and politics. The overlap is not fixed or sharp, leading the idealist and the activist alike into unknown territory. Here, politics is the means in which power is shifted. Defined as such, the designer has many ways to enter the political arena: through affecting change in small groups, organizations, neighborhoods and political office.
As a graduate interdisciplinary studio, the course will introduce and frame assignments in the broadest possible way to allow for many outcomes. Students are encouraged to bring their existing bodies of work, personal narratives and discipline-specific processes to their projects.
There will be three major assignments with a few activities, guests and outings. Some will relate and reinforce the assignments, others exist to bring students into contact with people and issues that relate to design and politics and can inform the final project.
- Spring 2022, Fridays, 1:10—6:10pm, D.C. #404
- Instructor: John Caserta, email@example.com
- GRAPH 2115/GRAD-275G, 3cr studio elective
- Office hours: Mon 10am—1pm, D.C. #504
- To cultivate bodies of work that relate to politics
- To encourage participation and positive change
- To introduce design methods relevant to this subject matter
- To share time and space to make sense of complex political dynamics
- Produce new knowledge that better defines the overlap between design and politics
- Nurture collaborations and cross-disciplinary study
- To expose students to contemporary artists and designers working in politics
- To better understand how organizations work and who they serve
- Be empowered to participate in the the web and in public
- Students will be able to better understand the groups to which they belong and affect change in those groups
- Students will understand how symbols can be manipulated for political effect
- Students will be able to use design methods to conceptualize their own projects
- Students will be able to better communicate with peers, community groups and politicians
- Students will understand how non-profits, governments and citizens can work together for change
- What is design’s role in politics?
- How are groups organized?
- What are the power dynamics around us?
- How can you create or manipulate symbols to communicate/express a point of view?
- What is public space for?
- How can we help?
- What do you believe and why?
- How does change happen? – Can design bring people together across political difference?
Unit 1: Who’s in charge?
Using your own affiliations as content, we’ll look at how various groups organize themselves, what the benefits are to those structures, and how other organizational structures may be of value. See writeup
Unit 2: How can we use symbols to make a point?
Groups and movements rally behind symbols — whether a graphic symbol, a flag, a building, a color or other. You’ll be asked to choose a symbol and create a new work that alters or applies that symbol in a manner that expresses a point of view. See writeup
Unit 3: What is public space for?
Public space provides the space for political and social acts, helping to define the culture of a place. You will make a work (or a proposal) sited in public, physical or digital, that encourages a shared experience. See writeup
Unit 4: Open Inquiry
You will have the last four weeks of class to create a work, whether individual or collaborative, that comes out of the first part of the course.
Weekly: News share and discussion
A minimum of every three weeks, you’ll share news stories of interest to you, and potentially the class. Throughout the whole semester, you shoudl be looking at news, videos, magazines, headlines, reddit posts, twitter, etc as the source for projects, commentary. Widen your sources. Use it as a chance to see how information flows and the agendas of those that propagate them. Let your imagine flow out of what you find. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ashes in urn available for pets.” You may also bring up primary sources (Covid stats) as something that is news for you, worth looking more into. You may also share your personal poltical news (Ex: “my mom is for border walls, and we talked about it”).
These share sessions are informal, but please prepare what you plan to share in advance.
You’ll work with various graphic diagramming structures — venn diagram, slider bar, branch, border, asterick — to help generate new ideas and relationships between things.
- Gemma Copeland (Zoom)
- Andy Pressman, Upstatement, April 8 (lecture Apr 7, 6:30pm)
- State Reps Jean-Phillippe Barros and Leonela Felix
- Amber Art & Design
- Providence Parks Dept (Peace & Plenty Park, North Burial Ground, The Wild Place, Davey Lopes Center)
|Week 1||Feb 18||Unit 1 begins|
|Week 2||Feb 25||Gemma Copeland|
|Week 3||Mar 4||Unit 2 begins|
|Week 4||Mar 11|
|Week 5||Mar 18||Unit 3 begins|
|Week 6||Mar 25|
|Week 7||Apr 8||Andy Pressman|
|Week 8||Apr 15||North Burial Ground|
|Week 9||Apr 22||Amber Art Collective|
|Week 10||Apr 29||State House|
|Week 11||May 6|
|Week 12||May 13||Final review|
|Week 13||TBD||Work due|
- “Democracy as Relationship” by Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, eflux
- Politics of the Everyday, Ezio Manzini
- Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair, Bonnie Honig
- Citizenship: A Practice of Society, Zoe Larkins. MCA Denver
- Caps Lock, Ruben Pater
Tools & References
- Ability to speak to the ideas that the work produced
- Complexity, inventivenes, risk
- Attention to details as they are defined by student
- Timeliness of work
- Body of work throughout semester
- Meaning of work
- Ability to incorporate feedback
- Participation with others (in discussion and making)
|20%||Unit 1: Org Chart|
|20%||Unit 2: Symbol appropriation|
|30%||Unit 3: In Public|
|20%||Participation, Attendance, Class engagement|
Updated May 2022
Because class activities, discussion and community-building is at the heart of this course, you are required to be in class, and what we do in our class meetings will help determine your learning experience and outcomes.
Method of Instruction
Class will be held in person (as long as RISD’s College Covid policies allow) and involve a mix of the following: lecture, activity, guest, outing, reviewing student work, sharing headlines, etc.
Estimated Cost of Materials
There are no mandatory expenses planned. The Graphic Design Department has a few black and white printers that can be accessed and used to print for free.
We each carry different life experiences and our goal should be to help each other see differing perspectives while the intention of making stronger work and connecting us to each other. Our viewpoints are influenced by our life experiences, education, age, identity and systemic forces out of our control. The instructor will do his best to expose students to a wide range of references and to respond to student work as generously and open-mindedly as possible. Part of how a student develops a personal voice is by seeing how the range of RISD instructors communicate their own views.
Particularly in a course about politics, it is expected that student viewpoints on subject matter and the reading of a work will differ. In order to grow, we must be open to listening and engaging views that we are unfamiliar with or disagree with. Please respect each others’ opinions and refrain from personal attacks or demeaning comments of any kind. Finally, remember to keep confidential all issues of a personal or professional nature that are discussed in class.
It is the responsibility of the individual faculty member to determine, maintain and enforce the standards of behavior acceptable to preserving an atmosphere appropriate for teaching and learning.
- Listen actively and share the floor. Allow others to speak if you have already spoken, and try to speak up if you tend to be an observer.
- It is OK to disagree, but not OK to shame, blame, or attack another person.
- Assume positive intent on the part of fellow participants.
- Ask questions from a standpoint of curiosity, as opposed to arguing or debating a point of view.
- Use I statements when sharing experiences, feelings and opinions. I feel, I believe, I think, …
- Avoid making generalizations. Facts and evidence are important.
- Allow space for emotions to be expressed, and notice when you get emotional. Ask yourself, what are your emotions teaching you?
- Be conscientious about your use of slurs against any identity group, even when telling a story or quoting. Choose your words thoughtfully. Some words open doors while others slam them shut.
- Address others using the name, pronouns, and identifying language they request.
- Privacy: please do not share other peoples stories outside of the group. If a story must be shared ask the storytellers permission first and ask them how our planet can be shared.
All work is built upon other work; whether explicitly or not. In this course, there will be opportunities to work with your classmates to build something that is shared. Particularly with many deadlines and when learning a new skill, other people’s work may offer a pathway forward. What you do with what you see is important and can be the difference between riffing, appropriating, copying and stealing. As a general rule of thumb, if you see something you are excited about (in class or outside), understand the context in which it was made. What was the design responding to, communicating, and to whom. A deeper understanding of other people’s work generally produces additional ideas, realizations and starts to “fork” the idea (thank you, Github). It’s rare that your design problem is exactly like someone else’s. It is rare that you share the same values, interests, skills, as someone else. Referencing another person’s work can make sense (logo parodies, etc) if that fits your concept. In a school environment it’s best to check in with your teacher to see how to best make your own work truly your own.
We expect all GD students and faculty to maintain an open perspective towards these concepts, and to use class as a safe testing ground for exploring influence, with the guidance of faculty. For more information, please see “It’s probably not plagiarism,” along with RISD’s Academic Code of Conduct.
RISD is committed to providing equal opportunity for all students. If you are a student with a disability that may require accommodations to complete the requirements of this class, I encourage you to discuss your learning needs with me during the first week of the term. Once an approval letter from the Office of Disability Support Services is submitted, accommodations will be provided as needed. For more information on how to receive accommodations, please contact Disability Support Services at 401-709-8460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Land acknowledgment *
Rhode Island School of Design is built on what is now called College Hill, part of the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett Nation, the only federally recognized tribe in Rhode Island. Indigenous people from many nations—near and far—live, study and work in Providence today. RISD community members are committed to actively addressing the many violent legacies of colonialism in our daily work. The amplification of Native voices and histories is crucial to rectifying the destructive past, and we gratefully acknowledge the ongoing critical contributions of Indigenous people across our state, region and nation. Let us commit ourselves as designers and human beings and with our work to create more equitable, respectful and honest open cultures and societies.
*This text has been sent to Anthony D. Stanton, chief sachem of the Narragansett Nation, to ask for his review. The text will be revised to address any feedback RISD receives from Chief Stanton or from one of his representatives.