0. The History and Ethics of Design Syllabus

Welcome to ME120

Christina Wodtke
Apr 18, 2020 · 6 min read

I’m two weeks into transforming ME120, previously taught by Barry Katz as History and Philosophy of Design, into an active learning exploration of the relationship designers have had to ethics over the years. At the end of this quarter I plan to write up what I learned and what I’d change, but for now, in case any practicing designers want to “play along” I’ll share the course materials. Perhaps you can even create a virtual study group?


Instructor: Christina Wodtke

CAs: Usman Khaliq, Stella Tu, Luke Liechty, Kris Mazurs
Meets: Asynchronously

Christina’s Office Hours: by appointment https://cwodtke.youcanbook.me/

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In this class we will examine the history of design, the challenges that designers over the ages have had to face and the ethical questions that have arisen from those choices. This class will explore a non-traditional view of design, looking at both the sung and unsung figures of history and question the choices they made, up to and including recent events in the Silicon Valley. This is a project class, so we will be making design works in response to the questions we unearth together.

Students will:

● Explore the roots of design in Architecture and Art

● Extract design approaches and skills from the past

● Practice Critique and Critical Writing

● Wrestle with some of the ethical Dilemmas Designs have faced

● Unearth hidden inequalities and assumptions that result in poor design decisions.

The following sample adjusted syllabus statement is shared open access by Brandon Bayne (@brandonbayne), associate professor of Religious Studies at UNC — Chapel Hill and is available for all to use and modify.

Source: @brandonbayne on Twitter

1. Nobody signed up for this.

Not for the sickness, not for the social distancing, not for the sudden end of our collective lives together on campus

Not for an online class, not for teaching remotely, not for learning from home, not for mastering new technologies, not for varied access to learning materials

2. The humane option is the best option.

We are going to prioritize supporting each other as humans
We are going to prioritize simple solutions that make sense for the most
We are going to prioritize sharing resources and communicating clearly

3. We cannot just do the same thing online.

Some assignments are no longer possible
Some expectations are no longer reasonable
Some objectives are no longer valuable

4. We will foster intellectual nourishment, social connection, and personal accommodation.

Accessible asynchronous content for diverse access, time zones, and contexts. Optional synchronous discussion to learn together and combat isolation

5. We will remain flexible and adjust to the situation.

Nobody knows where this is going and what we’ll need to adapt
Everybody needs support and understanding in this unprecedented moment

This class will be a combination of reading, documentaries, podcasts and other sources of design analysis. There will be small exercises throughout and a research paper at the end.

Week 1: Origins in Drawing

Exploring visual thinking from cave paintings to Sunni Brown and Dan Roam.

Week 2 & 3: Architecture

From Vitruvius to Hadid, and the fads, fashions and follies in between.

Project: Create a pop-up (or digital equivalent) book showcasing an architect you think people don’t know enough about.

Week 4–5

The birth of modern design, from the industrial age to the digital, exploring industrial design and advertising in particular.

Project: Create a poster and packaging for ̶a̶ ̶d̶e̶s̶i̶g̶n̶ ̶m̶e̶t̶h̶o̶d̶o̶l̶o̶g̶y̶ a universal value, with examples of the values embedded in products.

Week 6–7

“Software is eating the world” The rise of digital games, work and social spaces.

Project: Begin your research paper on a product.

Week 8–9

Emergence and prediction: Designing the invisible. Machine learning, AI, Algorithms, and APIs. Critical Design.

Project: Finish Research Paper on a product.

̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶c̶r̶i̶t̶e̶r̶i̶a̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶b̶r̶o̶k̶e̶n̶ ̶d̶o̶w̶n̶ ̶a̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶l̶l̶o̶w̶s̶:̶
̶●̶ ̶5̶0̶%̶ ̶P̶r̶o̶j̶e̶c̶t̶s̶
̶●̶ ̶2̶0̶%̶ ̶E̶x̶e̶r̶c̶i̶s̶e̶s̶
̶●̶ ̶2̶0̶%̶ ̶S̶k̶e̶t̶c̶h̶n̶o̶t̶e̶s̶
̶●̶ ̶1̶0̶%̶ ̶P̶a̶r̶t̶i̶c̶i̶p̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶(̶Q̶u̶e̶s̶t̶i̶o̶n̶s̶ ̶a̶s̶k̶e̶d̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶g̶u̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶s̶p̶e̶a̶k̶e̶r̶s̶,̶ ̶D̶i̶s̶c̶u̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶b̶o̶a̶r̶d̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶m̶e̶n̶t̶s̶,̶ ̶e̶t̶c̶.̶

Since we’ve gone pass/fail this is less relevant. If you show up to 2/3rd of the sections and do 2/3rds of the assignments and all of the projects acceptably (C or better quality), you will pass.

All reading, videos and audio materials I give you will be accompanied by a request for a sketchnote, unless otherwise stated. There is SO MUCH out there on sketchnoting, trust me — you can learn to do it. There are a few reasons why I ask for sketchnotes:

  • You get much higher retention and comprehension if you sketchnote.
  • The practice drawing ideas will serve you well in your career.
  • You can use them to practice graphic design principles, like hierarchy and layout. (I’ll be including optional Sketchnote challenges along with the media so you can explore)

Some hints working with sketchnotes:

  • Only draw key ideas. If you are reading a chapter and try to draw every single sentence, the sketchnote will be 20 pages, and it will take you hours.
  • Photograph or scan your sketchnotes. Make sure you have plenty of light, and that they are focused and oriented correctly. If there are multiple pages, make a PDF.
  • Don’t fret too much over layout. They don’t have to be gorgeous, I just need to be able to look at them and see you understood the material. That said, drawings that artfully communicate deep understanding/engagement with the material tend to earn higher grades.
  • If you must, you can do sketchnotes without drawing. I do expect variations in hierarchy, use of interesting dividers, bullets, etc. See How To Sketchnote Without Drawing

Sketchnote Resources

Sketchnote Handbook:

● The Sketchnote Podcast Episode 1 — Sketching Concepts

Dave Gray (drawing with this page is a good use for a lazy Sunday)

● A TEDx talk on the power of visual notetaking

● Drawing in class: Rachel Smith at TEDxUFM (I adore this talk)

̶Y̶o̶u̶ ̶l̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶1̶0̶p̶t̶s̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶1̶0̶0̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶a̶ ̶s̶u̶b̶m̶i̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶l̶a̶t̶e̶.̶ ̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶o̶w̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶d̶e̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶g̶e̶t̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶5̶0̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶c̶h̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶t̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶n̶ ̶z̶e̶r̶o̶,̶ ̶s̶o̶ ̶d̶o̶ ̶a̶l̶l̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶o̶m̶e̶w̶o̶r̶k̶!̶
Changed to “We will not grade anything more than 72 hours late.”

I was an art students once who had went to art openings for the free cheese and wine. I get it, and provide free versions of everything I teach. Official statement below.

Stanford University and its instructors are committed to ensuring that all courses are financially accessible to all students. If you are an undergraduate who needs assistance with the cost of course textbooks, supplies, materials and/or fees, you are welcome to approach me directly. If would prefer not to approach me directly, please note that you can ask the Diversity & First-Gen Office for assistance by completing their questionnaire on course textbooks & supplies: http://tinyurl.com/jpqbarn

The Honor Code articulates University expectations of students and faculty in establishing and maintaining the highest standards in academic work. Examples of conduct that have been regarded as being in violation of the Honor Code (and are most relevant for this course) include copying from another’s examination paper or allowing another to copy from one’s own paper; unpermitted collaboration; plagiarism; revising and resubmitting a quiz or exam for regrading, without the instructor’s knowledge and consent; representing as one’s own work the work of another; and giving or receiving aid on an academic assignment under circumstances in which a reasonable person should have known that such aid was not permitted.

See https://communitystandards.stanford.edu/ for more information on the Honor Code.

Link to Week One will go here once I write it.