Comm 146: Critical Design Practice (Winter 2013)

Tu/Th 2:00 - 3:20 PM
Peterson 102

Course website:

Recent Announcements (more)

Want to learn more about design beyond critical design? Check out the Design@Large series, usually Wednesday at noon. The series generally draws on cognitive science, computer science, and entrepreneurship and is more focused on the Human-Centered Design we briefly introduced at the beginning of the quarter. If you're interested in design, this is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the wider conversation.  (Sat Feb 15, 1:36 p.m.)
Added a few pages on "Communication and Relationships" for teamwork to the Documents > Teamwork Resources section. The selection has tips for effectively communicating and avoiding misunderstandings on small teams. (Wed Feb 05, 1:20 a.m.)


Lilly Irani (Prof)

Office Hours: By appointment, Wednesday 4:30-6:30pm on March 12 in MCC 103

Christo Sims (Prof)

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 3:30 PM - 5:30 PM or by appointment in MCC 207

Todd Woodlan (Reader)

Boris Boryakov (IA)

Office Hours: Wednesdays, 2:00 - 4:00 p in CalIT2, next to room 6302

Course Description

Designed objects and the built environment pervade and shape our everyday lives. In this experimental new course, students will learn to observe and analyze how the material world shapes our relationships, inscribes values, and sediments privilege. The course will combine cultural analysis with making objects and environments. Students will work in small teams to identify and develop an intervention into an issue on campus. They will work in dialog with those concerned with the focal issue, and learn to adapt their design practices through participation and critical reflection. Each week the course will mix lectures, studio practice, and significant out-of-class project work. Students are not expected to have specific production experience prior to the course. 

Course Details and Policies

This course involves hands-on group work, both in and out of class. In addition to attending classes, students are expected to spend a significant amount of time doing assignments and working on their group projects, especially prior to studio days. Coming to studio days with initial design work allows students to get meaningful feedback from peers and course staff. 

Since this is a hands-on course students are expected to attend all lectures and studio sessions. Our goal, after all, is to make lectures useful for doing excellent project work. While we will not track attendance, we will track class participation and studio participation. We will also spot collect design sketchbooks four times during the quarter. Students who are absent for notebook collection without prior notice will get 0 for their notebook grade that day.

Readings and Materials
Required readings will be posted under the "documents" tab above or on e-reserves. All readings should be read in full prior to class. Students should be prepared to provide a short summary of the reading’s main argument if called upon by an instructor. E-reserve readings must be accessed on campus or through the campus VPN. 

Students should also expect to spend ~$50 for materials for prototyping. The instructors will provide guidance about where students can obtain these materials. 

Studio Participation
Roughly half of our class sessions will be run as a studio. During studio sessions, students will work with their team members on group projects, participate in “crits,” or critiques, of each other's work, and present assignments to the class. For presenters, crit sessions are an opportunity to get feedback from instructors and peers about works in progress. For critics, crit sessions are an opportunity to apply cultural analysis to interventionist projects, to offer constructive feedback, and to learn from the design challenges of your peers. To benefit from these sessions, students should prepare materials prior to class and be open to receiving constructive feedback (e.g. don’t be defensive!). When giving feedback, be considerate and remember that it is hard to offer one’s work for public discussion and evaluation.


Team projects: Early in the quarter students will be organized into teams of four. Teams will be responsible for the Mini Critical Design Project (due January 30th) as well as the more substantive final project. Teams will also  periodically present their work-in-progress during crit sessions. 

Team process blog: In addition to the final design project, each team will turn in a final paper that describes their proposed design intervention and, more importantly, the process they followed in developing the intervention. The final paper will build on a “process blog” that teams update weekly. 

Observation exercise: Near the beginning of the quarter students will work in teams of two to conduct an observation exercise. More information will be handed out in class.

Individual sketchbooks: Each student will also maintain a personal “sketchbook” in which they document observations of design in their everyday lives and sketch or jot possible ideas for their group projects. The instructors will collect students’ sketchbooks periodically so be sure to bring your sketchbook to class. 

For questions related to enrollment in the class or in sections, please contact your undergraduate adviser in the Communication Office. For all other matters, please attend the professors’ or IA’s office hours. Generally, do not use email to replace face-to-face discussion with the instructors and IA about grades and course material. The instructors have scheduled four hours of office hours per week and both instructors are also available by appointment.

Students with Disabilities
Any student who requires accommodations for a disability should bring the professors the requisite letter from the Office of Students with Disabilities specifying what accommodations are to be made.

Academic Integrity
All suspicions of academic misconduct will be reported to the Academic Integrity Office. Academic misconduct is not only blatant cheating (e.g. copying off another student during an exam or quiz), but also: copying other students' papers or assignments; copying or using old papers/reports; forgetting to cite material you took from an outside resource; turning in work completed in total or part by another; signing in your friend to class; taking a quiz for someone else. The Policy on Integrity of Scholarship ( list some of the standards by which you are expected to complete your academic work.

Observation Assignment 10%
Mini Critical Design Project 20%
Final Project and Paper 50% (process blog 10%, final project & presentation 25%, final paper 15%)
Participation 10%
Sketchbook 10%

Since much of the course focuses on group projects, part of each student’s project grade will be based on assessments by fellow team members.

Late Assignments
Assignments will lose 10% of the total grade for each day they are late. 

Course Schedule

Week Date Topic Readings Assignments Notes
1 Tue Jan 07
The Promises and Limits of Design
Thu Jan 09 Design Process Bootcamp
from Balsamo, A. (2011) Designing Culture. Duke UP. 
2 Tue Jan 14 Critical Design Process
What is a design process? Case study of Turkopticon design process, step by step. How is critical design different from human-centered design?
Sengers, P. et al. (2005) “Reflective Design.”

Dunne & Raby, Design Noir, pp 75-79 “Placebo Project Description” (additional pages included so you can skim for context)

Dunne, “Real Fiction” (Ch. 5 of Hertzian Tales)
Thu Jan 16 Design Research
Stanford's "Understand Mixtape."

Brandt et al. (2013), “Tools and techniques: Ways to engage telling, making and enacting,” in Routledge International Handbook of Participatory Design. New York: Routledge. 145 - 181

Observation exercise assigned  
3 Tue Jan 21 Prototyping and sketching as ideation
Rohde, M. “Sketching: The Visual Thinking Power Tool”

Gaver, W. (2011) “Making spaces: how design workbooks work.” Proc. SIGCHI

Observation exercise DUE

Mini-critical design project assigned
Thu Jan 23 Studio for critical design project

4 Tue Jan 28 Crit: Critical Design Project 
Thu Jan 30 Crit: Critical Design Project 
  Mini-critical Design Project DUE
5 Tue Feb 04 Connecting issues to sites of practice
Irani, L. & Silberman, S. (2013) “Turkopticon: Interrupting Worker Invisibility in Amazon Mechanical Turk.”
Thu Feb 06 Examples of Critical Design
Watch: The Yes Men Fix the World (95 min)
  Chalkboard notes: Critical Design Tactics
6 Tue Feb 11 Speculation
How can design become a practice of speculating about futures? How do different cultural institutions try to make and manage futures, and how does our design practice work with or against those practices?
uncertain commons. "Ch 1: Prospects" pp 7-8, pp 12 (last para) - 16

Dunne & Raby, "Ch 5: Methodological Playground" from Speculative Everything
Thu Feb 13 Studio day for final project      
7 Tue Feb 18 Problematizing “Creativity”

Willis, P., 1998. Notes on Common Culture: Towards a Grounded Aesthetics. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 1(2), pp.163–176.

Miller, D. 2011. Designing Ourselves, in Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century. 88-99.

Calhoun, C., Sennett, R. & Shapira, H., 2013. Poiesis Means Making. Public Culture, 25(2), pp.195–200.
Thu Feb 20 Studio Day
8 Tue Feb 25 Design as politics: Nudgeocracies and Democracies
How can design interventions enact different styles of politics? How can designs subconsciously guide our behaviors or provoke us to explicitly reconsider them?
DiSalvo, Ch. 1 "Design and Agonism" from Agonistic Design

Bennhold, Katrin, "Britain's Ministry of Nudges," The New York Times, 12/7/2103
Thu Feb 27 Studio day
9 Tue Mar 04 Crit: Tour group 1
Thu Mar 06 Crit: Tour group 2
10 Tue Mar 11 Studio Day
Thu Mar 13 Afterlives of design
11 Thu Mar 20 Final presentations   Final design project paper and process blog DUE