Design Primer – Presentation for Digital Fabrication class at UP-Sud December 2019


This presentation serves to introduce non-designers to the culture of design. It proposes that design is like a trip, one that should take the designer outside of the “diameter of the obvious” (everything that can be imagined on day 1 and constitutes low-hanging fruit or cliche), to an unexpected place. Every design journey is unique, and this is how it should be – formulaic design is to be avoided at all costs.

The starting place of a design project is some kind of research. This could be in the form of a trip to the museum, an old book of science experiments, a thought experiment, or a found object. Research provides the material against which you push to move in some direction away from your starting place. Because design is new to academia, we usually end up borrowing ideas and data from neighboring disciplines. Research is a time when you should avoid looking at work from other designers, this is research that has already been digested in some sort. We’re looking for primary research at this stage.  (Here I could add something about the perspective you have gained from your new position on your original position – this is art!)

Design involves regular check-ins with your mentors. It’s best to have lots of objects and drawings on your desk for these moments. Many great inventions were discovered by accident (corn flakes, safety glass, the slinky, silly putty, post-it notes, etc.), and having things on your desk allows for misunderstandings and serendipitous associations.

Constraints are a key part of design. Face with a blank canvas, a rule of some kind can provide something tangible to work with. Minimilist works which test out the parameters of a single constraint and curate the results in a series are an example of one design approach. Examples are Sophie Calle’s Chromatic Regime, Sol Lewitt’s variations on open cubes, George Perec’s La Disparition, and Eadweard Muybridge’s Motion Studies. (I should know more about the examples I am bringing up to speak to them with more depth).

Constraints can be self-imposed or can be adopted from a situation. Once the work is prepared for a final presentation, the constraints can be removed like scaffolding from a building or they can be presented to the audience.

Getting stuck in a design process is natural. Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, a set of lateral thinking prompts, is a way to inject a foreign thought into your mind at one of these moments which may help you unblock your progress and see things from a different perspective.

Things I would like to add to this presentation:

Representation: How to describe your project? The power of collage and Scale models/scale model photography. One simple, clear idea. Do my images help describe this idea? Start at a large scale then increase when ready. Design your presentation.

Ambiguity being a tool to wield by the designer. The spectacle of the final presentation.

On research, sometimes what is most interesting is isolating a single metric, peeling away lots of data to highlight one metric. (Mauricio taught me this).

On not being precious with your creations: not allowed to destroy what you make, or edit what you make afterwards. Make tons of stuff but don’t identify with what you are making.

More on constraints: Like scaffolding, they can be removed before showing the project. Or, they can become part of the project and be presented at the end. Constraints can either be self-imposed or adopted.

I want to also introduce the concept of sketching, then moving to big scaled all the way to fine scale in the process of the design.

Talk about specificity being your friend (versus making something that does everything). Think about the thing in different situations, different seasons, many peoples, few people, etc.

The side of art/design being about you and how well you know yourself to a certain degree. The fact that this activity is more than a job but a kind of lifestyle. Self-knowledge, maturity…