Reflections: Design Ethos & Action

Week 1 (Sunday, January 22):

The first week of Design Ethos and Action we talked about some of the relevant terms related to the class material. We read an excerpt from an Aristotle paper that discusses the three techniques of ethos, pathos, and logos. We also talked about different design approaches related to action, referencing Herb Simon’s iconic phrase: “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” We then got into the complexities of this statement, such as who is everyone? Is it really desirable for the client, the designer, the environment? We then discussed the importance of considering impact when discussing action; one cannot complete an action without having some impact afterwards. I thought this class discussion was a good entry into the course, as it brings up a lot of issues including sustainability, stakeholders in a design project, the ethics of our choices as designers, and the fact that we need to consider a wide variety of factors during our design process. I think this class will help open us up to the things we aren’t even aware we’re not seeing or experiencing yet.

Week 2 (Sunday, January 29):

This week we began to familiarize ourselves with some terminology, namely ethos, pathos, logos, and various terms related to feminism and gender studies including gender, sex, gender binary, performance of gender, oppositional gaze, and the three waves of feminism. One part of this week that I really enjoyed was discussing the Kara Walker’s sculpture the “Sugar Sphinx.” I had seen this sculpture prior to the class, however it was fascinating to be able to look at it from gender and design perspective; we considered the ethics of this piece, what the message was and if there was an encoded underlying message we weren’t considering. We discussed the idea of encoding and decoding media in my previous gender studies class, however this was the first time I truly realized its overlap to communication, 3D works, and other aspects of design I tend to not put into the same category. This week we began categorizing our documentation of a particular aspect of our lives. I decided to document the beverages I consume on a daily basis. Thinking about it from a sustainability standpoint, I would say I am pretty conservative with my purchases of disposable beverage containers, mostly because I carry my water bottle with me at all times. I am waiting for the day I forget my bottle and realize that I can’t go a whole day without drinking something. I predict that even if there is a water fountain accessible to me, I will just forget to go get a drink or not feel energetic or motivated enough.

Week 3 (Sunday, Feb. 5):

This week we discussed two videos we were assigned to watch over the weekend, both dealing with the topic of “Design Thinking.” In the Wasserman video, his overarching view of design thinking was that it can be situated within various contexts and that the realm of design thinking has shifted over time, as our understanding and focus of design has shifted. He clarifies three phases that design thinking has gone through: the artifact centered, the human centered, and the social or socio centered. Though all hold elements of being human centered, there has been a progressive growth in the level of systemic thinking that takes place during the development of design projects. In the Tim Brown video, he makes the interesting and valid assertion that we need to remove the “priesthood of design” or in other words, make design and design thinking relevant, accessible, and applicable to the work of non-designers and to communities in general. We should be designing with, not designing for. The community that is impacted by our designs should be just as involved in the design process as we, the designers, are. Later in the week we talked about several other theorists/designers/authors who have varying perspectives on design practice and sustainability. While Richard Buchannan emphasizes the four orders of design that, together, create an overall experience, others such as Doblin and Chris Jones argue other kinds of orders that emphasize the system, process, and the hierarchy of experience. Although a lot of these concepts were pretty challenging to grasp in the readings, they share a common theme of considering the various stages that a design goes through, before it’s made, after it’s made, and after the user has given up use of it.

Week 4 (Sunday, Feb. 12):

This week in Design Ethos & Action we talked about slow change interaction design, sustainable design, akrasia, and the ethics of things. I found the readings and videos to be incredibly insightful and interesting this week, particularly the Akrasia and Ethics of Things readings from Stewart and Lorber-Kasunic and Tonkinwise. I thought one very interesting idea that was brought up in the Tonkinwise reading was the concept of teaching ethics rather than having them occur or not occur naturally, through apprenticeship and observation. Cultures and societies delineate what is ethical or unethical, a process which Tonkinwise believes has questionable morality. I also thought it was interesting that we as a society define ourselves and our culture solely through the stuff we have around us and the people we are interacting with; this is how we develop ethics and identity. I think we as designers attempt to empathize a great amount with the pain and the needs of other people, which has in turn caused a massive amount of products, goods, and services to be developed just within the last 50 years. Is it ethical to completely replace the abilities of man with machine? What are we saying about our priorities and our cultural identity? I think these concepts of akrasia and ethical design are incredibly fascinating and am excited to be able to apply them to my future work in this class and to my design practice in general. 

Week 5 (Sunday, Feb. 19):

This week we presented our final projects for Project 1. It was really interesting to hear how the different projects manifested themselves and what approaches people took to “finish.” While some people found ways to change their own behavior, others looked at the patterns they saw in other people with regards to the subject they tracked.

We watched TED talks by Michael Kimmel, Ray Anderson, and Michael Porter. Kimmel talked about the importance of gender equality, not just for improvement of women’s well-being but for the good of everyone. He talked about how equality within relationships, especially in one’s where children are involved, promotes a healthy and happy family dynamic. Anderson Talked about his realization that if he wanted his company to succeed and be seen as a leader of innovation, he had to think about the sustainability of his business practices. I thought this was a really interesting talk, as he makes it clear that people will buy into sustainability as long as it’s done well and is reasonably affordable. Porter talked about how we cannot rely solely on non profit organizations to fix our social problems. As business and large corporations are major players in how we as a society function and think, it’s important to incorporate them into the plan and vision for how we create social change and start to tackle wicked problems.

This week we also heard Jamie Edwards speak about diversity and representation in the workplace and in education. We talked about unconscious biases and how they implicate our relationships and perceptions. We also talked about the different ways in which we as individuals and our school system confront gender biases through actions, programs, and initiatives. I appreciated her four ways to tackle bias and discrimination

  1. Don’t confront but document
  2. Distract- changing the subject if a racist comment is made
  3. Delegate- finding an authority figure that can help
  4. Directly confront

We are supposed to start thinking about how gender, race and other forms of discrimination can relate to our roles as designers and how sustainability might play into this as well.

Week 6 (Sunday, Feb. 26):

This week we worked with argument diagrams and argument mapping. After completing work and readings over the weekend, we paired up with someone in class to try and map the arguments we found in the readings/videos from Sheryl Sandberg and bell hooks on bringing women into power, specifically in the workplace. I think the most interesting part of this exercise was to brainstorm on the parts of the argument that were not directly stated, but that we could gather based on what was and wasn’t there. In Sandberg’s argument, we were able as a class to determine that she believes women often are their own obstacles to rising and speaking up in the workplace and that if they shift their behaviors, then they will make progress. hooks on the other hand believes that the system works against women and minority groups, so it’s a bigger and more structural problem than Sandberg depicts. The mapping I did with my partner is shown below.


This week we also looked at the peer feedback we received on our first projects. This was really useful, as many of the suggestions people received were constructive and encouraged the person to push the ideas they developed further, if they were to continue with the project. Here are some of the comments, patterns, and thoughts I developed from looking at the critiques of my peers work and those of my own work. The numbers of the written questions correspond to the numbers in the corner of each Post-It. This was a really useful process for me, as I was able to see how I could expand upon the things I started doing in this project, and also consider what I could do when I’m out of college and in the real world.


In class we also watched a video that we felt related to our projects; I chose to watch Lauren Singer’s TED Talk on a zero waste lifestyle. Some of the overlaps I found from my work and her talk were that I had these set of ethics, such as caring about the environment and thinking about my own consumption everyday, but I haven’t made big enough changes to feel good about my waste output. She advises working at the “low hanging fruit” level first so that small successes/changes can lead to bigger ones which then lead to even bigger ones. I think I started to do this in my project, with looking at places on campus that allow you to bring in your own mug, and supplying my studio with porcelain mugs, but I think I need to start thinking about other areas now in which I want to conserve how much waste I produce, namely food. I really enjoyed this exercise and hope that we can have more of these discussions/reflection sessions in the future.

Week 7 (Sunday, March 5):

This week in class we talked about dialogue mapping and how it relates to wicked problems. We read an interview over the weekend from Jeff Conklin, who discusses the transition we’ve made from the Age of Science (where organizations rewarded individuals for predicting and controlling their environment… gathering all the facts so that they might formulate the right answer) to the Age of Design (the problem-solving process is social… we base [facts] on stories that give us a more coherent sense of meaning… the focus of our activities has shifted to creation). 

In addition to the readings we also watched a Design the Future video with Allan Chochinov. This was a really interesting talk, as he provided a lot of examples of design that doesn’t just create a new thing, but rather takes what is existing and reworks it so that it can deal with and innovate on other problems. In other works, redesigning the concept and not the artifact itself. I thought one really great counter example that he provided us with was the Virgin Mobile commercial about throwing away your phones. It glorifies consumption and waste, convincing you that everyone trashes their phones even if they aren’t broken. We as designers need to think about the message that we’re putting out and what we want our work to have an impact on. For me, design is about more than just making things look cool and convincing people that they really need this one thing; it’s about helping people shift their frame of mind, to experience and see interactions in new ways that make them realize what their own code of ethics is. If someone can design an easy system to help people compost their food scraps with as little effort put into it as possible, I find that project ten times more valuable than a pretty poster that tells you to recycle your plastic.

This week on Wednesday I talked to a representative at Wegmans to ask them a couple questions about their business practices that I could not gather from their website. While I didn’t get many concrete answers, I found out a couple things that help to put the business into perspective. This weekend I watched two videos; one was a TEDtalk by Natalie Jereminjenko and the second was a discussion between Jereminjenko and Tony Fry. Below are the notes from Jereminjenko’s talk:

Environmental Health Clinic

  • Walk out with prescriptions for things they can do to help the environment instead of meds for personal health
  • “Impatients”: people who are too impatient to wait for bureaucrats to pass legislation for the environment

– Solar chimney: heat rises, put black wrapping around it and it’ll heat up

-Big challenge is reimagining our relationship to natural systems, particularly with the animals we co-inhabit the earth with; social media with animals, light buoys that tell you when a fish swims under it

-Displacement won’t fix anything, we have to restructure the system

Plants can be planted on curbs to stop most of the toxic liquids mixed into rain to flow into estuaries.

For the second video, I thought a dialogue mapping of the discussion could be very useful. As the video is very long, it was difficult to include every point that was made, however I was able to map out about 4/5 of the conversation.



And the salient points…


Week 10 (Sunday, March 26):

This week we began our new project on Values in Organizations. We visited the Garfield Community Farm on Wednesday, which was very interesting to me. We me the pastor who operates the farm and he explained some of the processes that they practice during the different seasons. It was wonderful to see how he was able to embody his own ethical standards into his life and quotidian practices, while at the same time helping and supporting a community in need. Visiting the farm got me inspired to get involved over the summer in some way; this may not be specifically for Garfield Farm but potentially for an equivalent, such as the Lathan Street garden that Kristen maintains.

Week 11 (Sunday, April 2):

This week in Design Ethos we Tony Fry’s “Design Futuring.” One of the main points I got from his work is that we as people can never enter a realm of thought or argument without being pre-disposed to particular trains of thought, derived from our socio-economic, social, cultural standing. Fry talks about practice, and how in order to be unconscious of doing it, one must embed it into their being, it cannot simply be a task that occurs that you partake in. Fry introduced a concept that I was previously unaware of called ‘habitus,’ which is basically the structure and practice upon which all of our actions and thoughts and way of being stands. This relates deeply to the previous idea that was mentioned about being pre-disposed to various ways of thinking; ultimately we can’t be in full control or work only upon free will. Fry relates these ideas to the overall practice of design when he discusses the three main components of design practice:

  • Eidos: design as appearance, the form it takes
  • Techne: knowledge and skill needed to design something
  • Praxis: taking action and actually doing it

Fry’s work was a good ease into Bordieu, a French theorist who discusses the concepts of habitus, capital, and fields in his work. I really enjoyed the activity we did with people from our own majors about when rules and structures exist within our departments (the School of Design) and if there is some unspoken rules or hierarchy that are maintained. This was our initial breakdown of the rules and expectations for the School of Design. We found that many of them were unspoken and, if we were to ask a professor or other authority figure if they believed these to be true, they would probably say no. For example, I made the observation that it is expected you have your first or second internship by the end of sophomore year. Many would say that this is not an expectation, but if we were to ask other students like undergraduates, most would agree that this is in fact a very real pressure and expectation.

This exercise that we did with Kate in order to better understand Bordieu was a useful one, as we were able to see the overlap that our observations as students within the school shared, as well as how the experiences of other majors such as people in the III or HCI program compared to ours.

Week 13 (Sunday, April 16):

This week in Design Ethos we presented our A3 projects on Making Change. The subjects that people chose to discuss were very interesting, and I found quite a few overlaps between aspects of the different programs and their problems. On Wednesday we did an activity on “The Crossroads Between Should and Must” that Michelina led. This was a really difficult exercise to get through, as it was uncomfortable for me to have someone repeat all of the things I tell myself that I should and must do in my life. I think it made my apathy, self-awareness, and commitments that much clearer to me, which can be a scary thing to think about. Overall though I think the activity was really healthy and it got me thinking about all the things I don’t do that I probably should be doing if I care enough.

I’m looking forward to the final project on my own ethos; I think it will be a great way to tie together everything that we’ve been working on and learning this semester. I think it will also be useful for trying to figure out what my next steps are for aligning my values with my actions.


Week 14 (Sunday, April 23):

This week in Design Ethos we read “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and “Character and the Arts and Disciplines” by Richard McKeon. I thought Nelson’s reading sparked a really interesting conversation in class, as we all had very different experiences of “the real,” “the true,” and “the ideal.” Nelson argues that design relies on both the true and the real for inspiration and development of the concept or idea, but everything that is designed is real and not true. It is an experience rather than something factual based in science. For me, this idea feels pretty obvious, but was explained in complex terms. The discussion we had about the reading helped me to clarify some of the questions I needed to start thinking about before moving forward with the project. They revolve around the idea of aligning one’s actions with thought:

  1. Am I excited about something that I’m currently doing?
  2. How does it make me feel, about myself, my impact, etc.?
  3. What is my ideal situation and how do I get there?
  4. How am I currently interacting with the problem? Should this change?

Richard McKeon’s paper was a really challenging one to get through. I’m still unsure if I’ve understood it correctly, but what I gather is that one’s character is structured by social, religious, political (and many other) institutions that we function under. Our individual ethos is made up of our feelings, motives, and conceptualizations that guide our actions. Our character and our actions can be categorized under natural, ethical, social, and a functioning member within a group. As we developed socially, our primary areas of study (theology, law, and medicine) expanded into different fields or disciplines, which either fall under the humanities, which focuses on values, or the sciences, which are considered factual and value-free.

McKeon also references (in different words) the true, the real, and the ideal. He emphasizes that values and facts cannot and should not be considered in different, segregated realms. Everything that is abstract is based in some fact and some conception of what ought to be. In addition, everything that is “true” depends on experience and generalizations for us to judge it as a fact (114 right column). I believe the overall point that he makes is in order for us to grow within higher education, where there are all of these new and developing disciplines, we must integrate character into this development. This development within higher education is the only way that we can start to work on general education as well, and the disciplines and arts within it.

Week 15 (Sunday, April 30):

This week in Design Ethos we discussed Richard McKeon’s “Character and the Arts and Disciplines” and read Odo Marquad’s “The Age of Unworldiness? A Contribution to Analysis of the Present.” It was really useful to diagram out some of McKeon’s main points as well as connect his thoughts back to Harold Nelson’s “The Design Way,” specifically his concepts of the true, real, and ideal.

Liberal Arts Diagram

Arts and Disciplines Diagram

Mastery as Character Diagram

McKeon Diagram 2

Notes on McKeon reading questions

McKeon reading questions_notes

Notes on Grad Student reading

Grad student reading notes

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