Madonna and Child by Simone Martini

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DESIGN 581 A: Graduate Seminar in Design

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Meeting Time: 
T 8:30am - 11:20am
ART 122
Audrey Desjardins
Audrey Desjardins

Syllabus Description:

PDF version of syllabus. 

Course Information

Instructor Audrey Desjardins, Assistant Professor
Meeting Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. – 11:20 a.m., Art 247
Class email
Office hours By appointment, Art 255


Course Description

In this seminar we will read and discuss a sampling of texts that articulate contemporary discourses in design: we will reflect and argument about what design and design research are, what they could be, and perhaps what they should be. We will look at design not only as a professional practice but also as a way of producing new knowledge about how humans, artifacts and systems are entangled in and with the world.

In addition to the discussions in class, you will write short papers and sketch design responses that enter into a dialogue with the readings. 

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 writings 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 learn how to better articulate your own point of view.

Required Text

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. 

Recommended Text 

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 responses to readings (approximately 500 words each) [25%]

    In response to the assigned readings each week, you will either (1) write a brief paper, 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. Or (2) sketch a design response that enters in dialogue with the weekly readings. This response can explore, exemplify, contradict, or expand the readings' arguments. Each sketch will be accompanied by a very short text and a series of questions. 

    Responses are due no later than 8:30am each Monday before our Tuesday class discussion. Please submit documents in pdf format only in the Canvas assignment for that week. For the class during which you lead the discussion, you are excused of writing a reading response.

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

    Once during the quarter, you will lead the discussion. You should plan to begin the class discussion with a brief (5-minute) introduction that places the reading in context, before using prompts and questions to lead the discussion. You will also prepare a cheat sheet about the core concepts of the papers for your colleagues. 

  • 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 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) and claims with a minimum of two substantial articles.
    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

    • October 15: Propose preliminary topics for final paper.
    • October 22: Submit your choice of topic expressed as a research question.
    • November 5: Thesis statement and substantive (expanded) outline due
    • November 19: First draft (introduction and related works) due
    • November 26: Second draft (findings and discussion) and draft of abstract due 
    • December 1: Peer review is due
    • December 3: In class presentation 
    • December 10: FINAL PAPER DUE 



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: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:11pm