X, Y, and Z:
Graphic Design in Space
Rhode Island School of Design
Department of Graphic Design
GRAPH-3113-01, 3 Credits
Design Center Room 404 (Room Not Found)
James Goggin, Associate Professor
Office hours by appointment
How might contemporary graphic designers operate at multiple scales with greater awareness of the discipline’s latent anthropometric, spatial, dimensional, and relational capacities? In turn, how might graphic designers more effectively recognise, and experiment with, our role in translating and reproducing such experiences or phenomena (including art, architecture, fashion, writing) into widely-accessible media at different scales and in multiple formats?
This course will involve a range of collaborative exercises, inquiries, experiments, lectures, readings, screenings, site visits, and projects, exploring graphic design as an inherently multidimensional and spatial discipline. 3D, not 2D. Graphic design as object, as projection, as display, as gauge, as structure, as installation, as sound, as architecture. Not just the X and Y, but also the Z axis.
The course’s subtitle is “Graphic Design in Space,” a literal example being Carl Sagan’s “Pioneer Plaque,” the sum of humankind and space travel etched in pictographic form onto a pair of 9 × 6 inch aluminium plaques attached to NASA’s Pioneer 10 probe on its 1972 mission to planet Jupiter. We will also investigate more terrestrial, yet equally literal, types of space and how they relate to the human body: letters, words, paragraphs, pages, screens, rooms, buildings, and cities.
My aim for students in this class is that, with greater interdisciplinary, contextual, and proprioceptive awareness, you will work towards developing what feminist theorist and architectural historian Jane Rendell has termed a “critical spatial practice” as graphic designers. Ultimately, we’ll consider graphic design as an anthropometric system that is not only orthogonal (operating in multiple dimensions), but also orthographic (interpreting and communicating these dimensions through signs and symbols).
Through lectures, readings, screenings, site visits, exercises, and projects we will explore fundamentals of reading, anthropometric scale, movement, measurement, space, materiality, sound, display, and finally “program” in its architectural, curatorial, institutional, and graphic design definitions. In parallel with the projects themselves, we’ll deliberately work critically on cataloguing, evaluating, editing, curating, interpreting, reproducing, and displaying the same work for public audience as web and print publications.
Due to family health circumstances, I’m teaching the course—which is admittedly all about physical space, presence, and behaviour—online for this semester. However, even though my presence and interactions will be mostly Zoom– and Slack-based, I’m designing the course to accommodate both remote students and those who would like to collaborate on-campus, during or outside of class. The goal is to make X, Y, and Z as active as possible. Some local socially distanced walks are planned.
Each class will vary in programme, including discussions, reviews in small groups and one-on-one meetings, lectures, readings, and student presentations. The active presence, listening, and participation of everyone in the class is crucial (and will make it a lot more fun and interesting): in presenting your own work, supportive and respectful critique of your classmates’ work, and in class discussions of texts we’ll read along with other relevant (and no doubt tangential) topics.
Each member of the class will have their own Slack channel for uploading and sharing progress, research, content materials, links, and to function as a place for classmates to make thoughtful comments & suggestions, and for general discussions and feedback. I’m also going to try and see if Miro might be a worthwhile collaborative space for us to share work and references. (Hi, this is future James, beaming in from the year 2021, long after this fall 2020 course was completed, to say that Miro WAS a worthwhile collaborative space for us to share work and references: so much so that I now can’t imagine NOT using it, even if I ever get back into IRL teaching!)
This is a studio course, so aside from everything listed above, we’ll also be making use of class time to get work done. In both the classroom and in my practice, I define work as the obvious (planning, typesetting, composing, experimenting, testing, prototyping) and the perhaps less obvious (researching, reading, conversation, thinking, reflecting, walking). Class is a just as much a space for contemplation as it is for activity. (I’d argue that contemplation IS an activity.) Join each class prepared to work with all materials that you will need that day. Each week we will review what is due the next week and what you should plan to work on. Get to class on time, if not early: 1:10pm.
A laptop, strong internet connection, and relevant software including Adobe Creative Suite, Slack, Zoom, Miro, and Google Docs will be required. (I’m here to help if current circumstances make any of these things difficult for you to access.) Related to all this, please read RISD’s Student Code of Conduct for Remote Learning.
I’d like us—as a class that’s part of an institution physically located in Providence, Rhode Island—to acknowledge the peoples of the Narragansett and Wampanoag Nations as the original inhabitants and enduring stewards of the lands and waters upon which RISD is situated. Let’s commit ourselves and our work to create more equitable, respectful, and honest open cultures and societies.
Although I know this class is mostly virtual and some of us are remote, we are using Zoom, video and audio conferencing software by an American communications technology company that actually operates from an international network of physical data centres, many of which are also located on occupied land (in places like San Jose, Toronto, and Sydney). The list of occupied lands only gets longer. Check out this work-in-progress map of worldwide Native lands, an initiative of Native Land Digital, a Canadian non-profit governed by an Indigenous board of directors and funded by individual donors and supporters.
Teaching & Learning in 2020
None of us can fail to acknowledge that we are currently in the middle of a serious pandemic, a global health crisis which is impacting so many people, communities, and cultures in profound ways. My aim as a teacher and designer is to be reasonable and understanding. We’re all just human beings trying to do our best. Please be reasonable with yourself, reasonable with others in the community, and allow yourself plenty of time for reflection. As I mentioned above, reflection is work too.
RISD is committed to providing equal opportunities for all students. If you are a student with a disability or condition that may require accommodations to complete the requirements of this class, I encourage you to discuss your learning needs with me prior to or during the first week of the term. Once an approval letter from the Office of Disability Support Services is submitted, accommodations will be provided as needed. For more information on how to receive accommodations, please contact RISD Disability Support Services at 401 709 8460 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
RISD is committed to Social Equality and Inclusion and has a newly-created campus initiative to support this (SEI). This is a long-held personal commitment of mine too: to challenge accepted design history and canons, and to embrace different cultures, languages, scripts, approaches in both my teaching and in my practice. It is important to me that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives are well-served by this course, that students’ learning needs are addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity students bring to this class are viewed as a resource, strength, and benefit. I strive to present materials and activities that spotlight underrepresented voices and are respectful and representative of diversity: in gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, culture, perspective. Your suggestions about how to improve the value of diversity in this course, and your challenges to me as a teacher in an acknowledged position of power, are always encouraged and appreciated. See also: RISD’s non-discrimination policies on titleix.risd.edu.
Attendance & Participation
Conversation, communication, and critique are crucial to this course. All students will be expected to speak openly and contribute to an ongoing, collaborative, supportive dialogue throughout the semester. Students should be prepared and willing to share information and resources during the presentations and reviews.
Readings will be assigned every week. We will discuss the readings in class, in relation to specific historical and contemporary works, and each other’s class work. Students are urged to come to class with quotations, points, excerpts, notes, thoughts, questions, &c., as prompts for in-class discussion. Please be prepared to discuss the texts and wider related issues and ideas.
Students should be actively engaged in researching areas of interest that are introduced in the class. This should be evident from sharing of information through discussion, contributions to a potential studio exhibition and publication, and from presence and participation in studio practice.
Academic Honesty & Generosity
During the course of your work in X, Y, and Z (and in general at RISD as a student) you will experience a range of opportunities to be inspired and influenced by other designers and artists. While plagiarism with the goal of deception will not be tolerated, it’s normal to explore the work of others in new and original ways, and to express that influence through a variety of techniques—including homage, parody, style, derivation, and appropriation.
Citing your inspirations, references, and sources and giving credit where it’s due are ethical, political practices. I’m actually paraphrasing Shannon Mattern (Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research) in that previous sentence, and I’m going to further cite her below, where she in turn cites Sara Ahmed (British-Australian feminist scholar) and Kishonna Gray (Assistant Professor in Communication, Gender and Women’s Studies, and affiliate in Black Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago):
“As Sarah Ahmed and Kishonna Gray acknowledge, citations are a means of determining ‘who appears,’ who counts, whose work gets validated. Our citational choices have the power to build communities, as well as to dismantle and build and reform canons and disciplines. … Keep in mind that citation is more than just a bureaucratic obligation.”
We expect all GD students and faculty to maintain an open perspective towards these concepts, discussing it freely, and to use class as a safe testing ground for exploring influence, with the guidance of faculty. For more information, see John Caserta’s “It’s Probably Not Plagiarism.” Make sure you read through RISD’s Definitions and Rules of Academic Misconduct.
Students will be evaluated on contributions to the studio culture (participation in discussions and critiques), personal development (evidence of curiosity, initiative, advanced knowledge, skills, and insights over the course of the term), strength of work (degree of visual and conceptual literacy, quality and depth of ideas & critical thought, and the appropriate, experimental application of your thinking/criticality in completed work at the highest possible standard), and presentation (clear, interesting, rational, honest, engaging articulation of concepts and enlightening interpretations of completed work).
We will conduct a final review of the semester’s work in the context of a web (and potentially print) publication on the last day of class of the Fall 2020 semester (Tuesday 15 December, or earlier, TBD). All course projects will be meticulously and critically catalogued and documented on the X, Y, and Z website with the aim of gradually accumulating throughout the semester towards final publication.
Shows exceptional abilities in all areas. Deliberate, sincere work, risk taking and experimentation, receptive to criticism, positive attitude towards learning and the classroom community, solid attendance (meaning the best that present circumstances allow), comprehension of core principles, and full participation.
Very good, strong, shows a positive attitude toward learning and fullfilment of all class requirements. Finished work and class participation are good, proficient, occasionally quite good, but perhaps not quite enough effort to truly do the ideas and intentions justice.
Average, acceptable, but not exceptional in any way.
Failing to grasp the basics, or struggling with completing work, with class attendance, and participation.
Final grade will be based on these criteria as well as the edited body of work contributed to online/print publication at the end of the semester. Keep in mind that any project can be redone or improved upon all throughout the semester. Such improvements will be taken into consideration when grading the final collected works.
You are expected to show up to every class and to be on time. Late arrival or early departure without my approval will be noted and may impact your grade. If you cannot attend a class due to illness or other special circumstance, you must email me before class. You are allowed one excused absence; after that your grade will be seriously at risk. Pending special or extreme circumstances, this is non-negotiable.
As each assignment concludes, students will meticulously document work and upload to a Google Drive folder containing a portfolio of all of your assignments (in PDF form), as well as materials that document your process. It is important that you save all of your work and not just the final results. Please keep all iterations and versions of projects, sketches, process notes, photography, &c., as well as iterations of your digital files.
You are strongly urged to set up and maintain a solid backup and archiving strategy for your work—while you’re at RISD, and for basic professional practice in the future. Operate on the assumption that your hard drive or computer will go down, usually when you least expect it. You will not be excused for preventable loss of data. Truly effective backing up means three things: on-site (e.g. external USB hard drive on your desk for nightly backup), off-site (e.g. a constant cloud backup service like Backblaze, which I highly recommend, even urge, that you use), and a bootable clone (another local USB hard drive that you back up once a week, as a clone of your drive with which to boot up from another Mac, to get up and running quickly and effortlessly should anything happen to your own Mac). Read more about this so-called three-legged backup strategy here.