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B Readings

B Clay Shirky: Group as User

On designing for the user as a group rather than as an individual. It’s a little out dated because he talks about mailing-lists which are sort of a 90’s thing, but the ideas are still there. How do you adjust the design of software to account or mitigate un-wanted anti-social behavior?

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B Relational Design Readings

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Towards Relational Design, Design Observer, By Andrew Blauvelt

Towards Relational Design, Walker Art Center, By Andrew Blauvelt

Strained Relations, Print Magazine, By Rick Poynor

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B Syllabus

Relational Design (3248-03), Spring 2013
Rhode Island School of Design
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Design Center, Rm 801
Mondays, 1:10pm – 6:10pm
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Instructor: John Caserta, jcaserta@risd.edu
Office Hours: Mondays 9:30am – 12:30pm
The Design Office, 204 Westminster St. 3rd flr


Design is no longer limited to a one-directional process where a visual expert creates a fixed form for a pre-determined audience. The role of designer itself varies from expert to facilitator to user within a single project. The field of Relational Design focuses on effect: the non-subjective area of design that effects experience. It can also be described as contextual and/or conditional — more concerned with the placement and lifespan than with its form.

Contrast this to the previous era of design, which was concerned with creating a universal language of form that could transcend social class (Modernist emphasis on simplification, reduction, and essentialism). In the more recent past, importance was placed on design’s symbolic value and its content (meaning-making). We are now looking at design’s performative dimension (relationships and context) and its effects on users, its pragmatic and programmatic constraints, its rhetorical impact, and its ability to facilitate social interactions.

This course will pair contemporary design methods with the communicative opportunities of our increasingly connected society. Projects will purposely alter the conventions that have defined form, function, meaning, and audience. Responding to the paradigm of collaboration and integrative thinking, we will incorporate group dynamics, consider alternative end forms, explore new ways to solve problems, and stimulate innovation.

Objectives and Expectations

  • to develop alternative design methods
  • to experiment with big picture thinking
  • to give up control as design auteur
  • to embrace groupwork
  • to enhance observational and analytical skills
  • to alter own and other’s behavior

Course Format

This course relies less on lectures and more on active teammwork, experimentation and doing. Self-organizing and team-lead discussion are an important part of how classtime will be structured. Expect much less guidance here than in previous GD courses. This is by design.


Grades from A to F will be assigned at both the middle and end of the semesters. Only the end of semester grade is on record. The following criteria are used for assessment:

  • Attendance (3rd absence fails the course)
  • Participation
  • Motivation/Attitude
  • Teamwork
  • Depth of investigation
  • Risk taking
  • End products: success in meeting objective
  • Individual growth

Course Schedule

There will be four core assignments representing different relational considerations. For the most part, there is no pre-determined deliverable. Each assignment will begin with an overview lecture providing context and precedents. Some assignments overlap.

UNIT 1: design ethnography

Four weeks

UNIT 2: substituting machines for each other

Two weeks

UNIT 3: site intervention

Three weeks

UNIT 4: participatory museum exhibition

Four weeks

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