Rhetoric of Digital Design

Fall 2014
Professor O'Gorman

Seminar Presntation with Notes (20%)
Minor Design Project with Essay (10% +10%)
Major Design Project with Individual Essay (20% + 20%)
Blog (10%)
Participation (10%)

Seminar Presentation with Notes (20%)

Each student will prepare a presentation based on a weekly reading, covering key points, specialized terms, and items of contention or discussion. Your presentation should be as attentive to stimulating discussion as it is to the theatrics of powerpoint. This is not simply a summary of the reading, although you must give a comprehensive overview of the text; instead, the goal of the presentation is to "translate" the weekly reading so that it is relevant within the context of previous and future course readings and assignments. You should make use of audio/visual materials of your choice to enhance the quality of the presentation. Don't just present the text (and most especially, don't just read notes from a page) -- engage your colleagues in a discussion of the issues.
In preparation for the presentation, each student will write a set of reading notes based on the instructions below. Ideally, you should be taking notes like this for each course reading. Taking notes ensures that the readings have a better chance to be stored in your internal hard drive (hypomnesis), where they participate actively in your individuation. You should leave the course with key concepts that you can employ in writing, design, and thinking for the rest of your life. My recommended note-taking method, which is also a mnemotechnic, is as follows:

1. Do the reading.
2. As you read, underline or outline passages that you feel are of significance. What is significant? Anything that will help you explain the reading to others, anything that reminds you of other readings, anything that coincides with popular culture and current events.
3. Transcribe the significant passages in a text document, along with bibliographical information and page number.
4. Under the transcribed passage, write a comment about why it is significant.

Notes will be graded primarily on the substance of your comments, but the form of the notes (bibliographical information, proper transcription) will also be taken into account. Post portions of your notes to the blog if you want feedback from your colleagues (and a better participation grade). The presentation grade will be based on the following components (5% each): comprehensiveness (did you cover the most important parts of the article?); relevance (did you relate the reading to other course readings or current events?); notes (based on critera above).

Minor Group Design Project (10%) with Individual Essay (10%)
Due October 16

Students will work in groups of 2 to complete a small digital design project that involves soldering together a small piece of hardware and programming it to display images with LED lights. The key component of this project will be hacking the code to transform a “cute” piece of digital jewellery into a critical object-to-think-with. Additional details will be provided in class. Technical support may be provided by the CML’s lab tech, but students are expected to respect the “Y” part of this DIY assignment. Project hardware will be funded at least in part through the CML budget. The project will be accompanied by a short essay (3-4 pages) that explains the meaning of the hack, based on course readings and additional research. Grading of the hardware project will be based on the functionality, complexity, and creativity of the hardware, code, and interface. Grading of the essay will be based on the student’s ability to demonstrate how the hadware project embodies a specific critical issue. Research materials (at least two books or articles) must be quoted directly. Additional details will be provided in class.

Major Group Design Project (20%) with Individual Essay (20%)
Due Dates: Proposal Oct 30, First Iteration Nov 20, Exhibition Nov 28, Essay Dec 4

Students will work in groups of 2 to complete a design project that incorporates course readings with digital tools and design strategies discussed in class. The group will propose a project that they have found on a maker/hacker site such as,, or After the project is approved, they will complete its construction. The final step will involve hacking the project to transform it into an object-to-think-with that reflects course readings and discussions. Additional details will be provided in class. Technical support will be provided by the CML’s lab tech, but students are expected to respect the “Y” part of this DIY assignment. Project hardware will be funded at least in part through the CML budget. The projects will be showcased in a public event at the end of the term. In addition to the group work, students will complete INDIVIDUAL essays, for which they will be graded INDIVIDUALLY. The essay will serve as a lucid explanation and theorization of the project, as if written for a general but specific audience (e.g., readers of The New Yorker). In preparation for writing the essay, students should ask themselves the following questions: How was the project created? What are the technical specifications of the project? How was it received by the audience? How does the project reflect and/or embody course readings? The evaluation will be based on the technical precision of the writing, the quality of documentation, and the application of course readings and other research materials. The essay should be 7-8 pages in length, double-spaced, 12pt font, 1-inch margins, and follow the MLA formatting style

Blog  (10%)

Each group of students will keep a blog of their course-related activities both as individuals and as a group. The blog should be used to comment on course readings, post articles and information relevant to the course, and document project development. But it should also serve as a “sketch book” where students sketch out ideas, discuss interesting projects or technologies that are relevant to their work, and comment on the work of other students. The blog is a group activity, but students will be graded INDIVIDUALLY based on the quantity and quality of posts.

Participation (10%)

Students are expected and arrive on time, attend all classes, and actively engage their colleagues in seminar discussions. In addition, students will be expected to complete in-class workshops, which also count toward the participation grade. Finally, students will be graded on their participation in group work, as assessed by their peers. Misuse of personal digital devices in class may result in a lower participation grade.