About the class

Here’s a few things to know about the class.

Graphic Design Systems

Meta-design is much more difficult than design; it’s easier to draw something than to explain how to draw it. One of the problems is that different sets of potential specifications can’t easily be envisioned all at once. Another is that a computer has to be told absolutely everything. However, once we have successfully explained how to draw something in a sufficiently general manner, the same explanation will work for related shapes, in different circumstances; so the time spent in formulating a precise explanation turns out to be worth it. - Donald Knuth, The Metafont Book

This is a class directly built on Donald Knuth’s idea of meta-design. We examine what is possible in computational systems and algorithms. It just happens to be a great way of learning the design process.

Assignment Constraints

As an example, let’s look at film directors. Most people think that super creative people sit alone in a room until creativity strikes them - like something that is blessed from above. On the other hand we can look at a director like Lars Von Trier.

Whenever he makes a movie, he approaches it from a very constrained angle. Like his Dogme-movies that was shot only with a hand-held camera and with no audio dubbing allowed:

Or Dogville, where the set was simple chalk drawings on the floor.

Or “The Five Obstructions” where he challenges Jørgen Leth into recreating his famous movie in 5 different ways.

It’s easy to see that he doesn’t do all of this for no reason. He sets himself a challenge, and operating within these constraints makes him more creative. It’s like cooking. Grabbing mustard, pickles and apples from your fridge doesn’t make you a great cook. Careful planning and experimentation with flavors will.

That’s the way we’ll explore our creativity: through tight constraints. Hopefully you’ll learn that, even after this class, you need something to respond to, and constraints are often very helpful in the design process. Nothing is more scary than a blank canvas.

Don’t be late

In a grad school like ITP, your class time is way too valuable for us to start 15 minutes late. I’ll start classes at 9:35 latest, and I expect you all to be there.

Combining with other classes

History tells me that the best work in this class comes from first years, or second years who were not in their thesis semester. If you’re taking this class because you have a thesis idea that is perfect as a final project, you’re more than welcome to combine this class with your thesis. However, combining class projects as a last resort to spend more time on thesis is not optimal. Let’s talk about it on a case-by-case basis.

It’s a lot of work

This class will be a lot of work. On top of the time you need to spend on coming up with an original idea and implement it in code, you also need to go and print your file at AMS every week. Students often print at AMS on Wednesdays, which means that your assignments need to be done a day before that. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work too.

Remember that it’s an automatic fail if you miss more than 2 classes or print assignments.

Lids Down

It’s hard to have great discussions if half the class is looking at their laptops during lectures. So let’s keep that to a minimum. All lectures are documented online, so there shouldn’t be any need to take notes. If you do need to take notes, please let me know before class.

No Group Work

I’ve been back and forth on this one. We generally don’t do any group work until the midterms or finals. Design by community is a really bad thing, and it’s hard to learn the basics of design while working in groups. This can be hugely beneficial later, but we’ll solve the assignments individually at least until the midterms.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to AMS together. Please book times in pairs, so you can learn from each other and help when the print messes up.