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Architecture, Object Design, Generative Process
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Making Meaning: An Introduction to Designing Objects, Part I

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Go at your own pace
4 Sessions / 8-10 hours of work per session
Included w/ premium membership ($20/month)
Skill Level
Video Transcripts
Architecture, Object Design, Generative Process
Course Description

Part 1 of Making Meaning: An Introduction to Designing Objects provides an overview of the theories and practices object designers are engaged in today, and how designers use signs, style and utility to generate substance. It also examines the design process in detail, revealing models to help us make sense of its complexity. Starting by illustrating the breadth of the field, the course goes on to explore the power relations and semiotic structures which lie behind object making. It covers how we use objects to express our identity and position ourselves within subcultures, and it analyzes the process of design as it unfolds in the designer’s mind, on paper, through model making, and via other generative “thinking tools”. Incorporating interviews with contemporary professionals the course offers rare insight into the way designers work, the thinking behind their projects, and the methods that lead to successful object-making.


This course is in adaptive mode and is open for enrollment. Learn more about adaptive courses here.

Session 1: Mission Creep: Product Design Goes Plural (January 25, 2022)
The first session defines what we mean by object design - how it differs from, but overlaps with, the arts and sciences - what skills are needed to practice it - and what different specialisms it includes.
9 lessons
1. Introducing and Summarizing the Course: Questions about Designed Objects
2. Session Contents: Insight into the Program Topics
3. What is Object Design?
4. Contradictions and Dilemmas of Object Design (Premium Exclusive)
5. Locating, Positioning and Deconstructing Object Design (Premium Exclusive)
6. Boundaries and Sub-disciplines within Object Design
7. How Design Movements Helped Define Design Decisions
8. Critiquing Design Now
9. Outro and Assignment: Breadth of Object Design Field (Premium Exclusive)
Session 2: Style and Substance: The Overt and Covert Politics of Design (February 1, 2022)
Session 2 is about object design’s relationship to value, power, and meaning. It explains how we use objects to express our identity and position ourselves within subcultures, and how design becomes a persuasive tool when we choose to design a certain type of object, or convince a manufacturer to use one material over another.
10 lessons
1. Session Introduction: Value and Politics
2. Types of Value Part 1: Capital, Fields of Value and Subcultures
3. Types of Value, Part 2: Performance, Use and Exchange Value, and Commodity Fetishism
4. Types of Value, Part 3: Sign Value Conspicuous Consumption and the Design Signature (Premium Exclusive)
5. Design is Political
6. The Political Connotations of Objects (Premium Exclusive)
7. Channeling Behavior
8. Recognizing and Acting on Your Political Position
9. Design as Political Activism
10. Outro: Application of Value and Politics (Premium Exclusive)
Session 3: Reading and Writing Form: The Visual Language of Designed Objects (February 8, 2022)
Designed objects display visual language - the way an object communicates to us with its outward appearance. Session 3 looks at the structures and uses of that language
11 lessons
1. Introducing Semiotics
2. Product Semantics
3. Semiotic Structures (Premium Exclusive)
4. Denotation, Connotation, and Myth
5. Form as Identifier
6. Understanding Use Through Form (Premium Exclusive)
7. Improvisation, Appropriation, and The Power of the Ready-Made
8. Borrowing Proportions and Details
9. Adopting Processes and Behavior (Premium Exclusive)
10. Design as Poetry
11. Outro: Design Language in Use (Premium Exclusive)
Session 4: A Generative Process: Design in the Mind, on the Page, and in the Hand (February 15, 2022)
In Session 4 we look at different design methodologies and thinking tools that enable us to push our ideas-generation further, and provide the widest range of options from which to select the right direction. We also cover visualization and prototyping tools that allow us to represent our ideas and test them.
9 lessons
1. The Elusive Design Process
2. A Philosophical Model
3. Design Methodology
4. Thinking Tools 1: Mind Mapping
5. Thinking Tools 2: Brainstorming
6. Thinking Tools 3: Drawing (Premium Exclusive)
7. Thinking Tools 4: Model Making
8. Thinking Tools 5: Design Process (Premium Exclusive)
9. Outro: Understanding of Process and Tools (Premium Exclusive)
Learning Outcomes

Below you will find an overview of the Learning Outcomes you will achieve as you complete this course.

Instructors And Guests
What You Need to Take This Course
  • Thinking: Objects - Contemporary Approaches to Product Design by Tim Parsons
Additional Information

Please note: Taking part in a Kadenze course For-Credit or as a Premium Member, does not affirm that a student has been enrolled or accepted for enrollment by School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Taking part in this course For-Credit offers credit that is recognized by School of the Art Institute of Chicago, should the Kadenze student be accepted for enrollment in the future.

Students who are currently enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are not eligible to receive credit for this course.

In order to receive college credit for these program courses, you must successfully complete and pass all 2 courses in this program. If a student signs up for the Making Meaning: An Introduction to Designing Objects program, it is recommended that these courses are taken sequentially.

*Partial credit will not be awarded for completion of only one course.

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