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DESIGN 581 A: Graduate Seminar In Design

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Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 2:20pm
ART 211
Linda C Norlen

Syllabus Description:

Course Information

Instructor Linda Norlen, Affiliate Assistant Professor
Meeting Tue/Thur 11:30 a.m. – 2:20 p.m., Art 211
Class email
Office hours Tuesday and Thursday afternoon by appointment

Course Description

In this seminar we will read and discuss a sampling of texts that exemplifies design discourse: argument about what design is, what it could be, and perhaps what it should be.

In addition to the discussion in class, you will write short papers that enter into a dialogue with the readings. For the last three weeks of the seminar, you will choose a topic for a longer paper, and each of you will share a reading that's relevant to your chosen topic with the group and lead the class discussion about it.

The final project in the course will be to write an academic essay that engages two or more peer-reviewed articles, using them as a point of departure for investigating a research question and making a claim or argument of your own.

Course Objectives

The purpose of the course is for you to:

  1. Become familiar with a sampling of writing about design written for scholarly and professional audiences.
  2. Grow more adept at careful and critical reading of a wide range of texts of different subject matter and styles.
  3. Increase your ability to translate what you learn from your reading into pointed inquiry and discussion.
  4. Become more discerning about your sources of information (books, journals, articles); be able to qualify sources for their likely reliability.
  5. Expand your capacity to write by engaging what others have written and learning how to better articulate your own point of view.

Required Texts

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Second Edition, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. 

Ezio Manzini, Design, When Everybody Designs, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: M.I.T. Press, 2015.

Recommended Text [will be required for M.Des. students in Spring quarter]

Kate L. Turabian; revised by Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and DissertationsEighth Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.


  • 6 short papers (approximately 500 words each) [25%]

    In the first six weeks of the quarter, in response to readings assigned, you will write a brief paper each week, in which you do two things: First, summarize in your own words (preferably with a minimal number of direct quotations) what the reading is about. Second, formulate a response to the readings that either agrees, disagrees, or responds with some mixture of agreement and disagreement. (See the readings in They Say, I Say for guidance.) Be sure to back up your opinions with evidence and reasons. (More detailed instructions will be given in class.)

    Papers are due no later than 6 p.m. each Sunday night before our Tuesday class discussion. Please submit documents in pdf format only in the Canvas assignment for that week.

  • Choose a reading, lead a discussion [25%, along with your participation in discussions throughout the quarter]

    In the second half of the course, you will have the opportunity to select your own article for the entire class to discuss. This article should be related to your chosen topic for the final paper. You should plan to begin the class discussion with a brief (5-minute) introduction that places the reading in context. By having the entire group review your topic by discussing a text about it, you should be able to gain additional perspectives and analysis to help you in formulating your response for the final paper.

  • Final paper: an academic essay (3,000–5,000 words) [50%]

    During your studies as a graduate student in design, you will be moving toward formulating a particular question or topic you want to investigate in depth in your final thesis for the Master’s degree. Before that, you should be exploring what possible domains and questions you might be interested in. Writing this paper is one such opportunity.

    For your essay, use ONE of the following approaches:

    1. Select at least two articles from readings you find in one or more peer-reviewed design journals. Your task is to question or challenge assumptions in the articles and possibly offer alternative readings and interpretations. Feel free to introduce your own examples of existing designed work and other articles to support your arguments.
    2. Choose an issue in design about which there is question, controversy, or debate. Articulate your point of view (or mixed reactions) to the controversy, and support your view(s) with a minimum of two substantial articles to support your claims.
    3. Choose a design project or area of design that you have worked on or a domain of design in which you would like to work. Using concrete examples of work from that domain, discuss one major issue or problem in that domain, using a minimum of two substantial articles to support your claims.

    Avoid questions that are overly broad. You will need to research some of what is already known about your subject, then determine what you think about it. The summary of what you discover and your response (evaluation and analysis) should form the heart of your paper.

    Final paper schedule

    • November 1: Select topic for final paper
    • November 8: Thesis statement and outline due
    • November 15: Expanded outline due
    • November 22: First draft due
    • December 6: FINAL PAPER DUE
    • December 8: Write abstract of paper
    • December 10: Finished abstract due
    • December 10: Any corrections to final paper due

Other Info


Unless you notify me otherwise, I assume that you are willing to allow me to use samples from your work in this course in future instructional settings (e.g., excerpts or examples in presentations). I will remove all identifying information from the work so that it is anonymous.


This syllabus and all associated assignments, requirements, deadlines, and procedures may be subject to change during the term.

Catalog Description: 
Addresses critical issues in design through research, writing, presentations, and discussion.
Last updated: 
October 5, 2016 - 9:20pm