Untold Narratives: Realizing Personal Design Identities

Thesis Advisor: Terry Knight
Readers: Lorena Bello Gomez & Nicholas de Monchaux

This thesis introduces alternative possibilities for structuring design education to emancipate designers’ personal creative identities. It was motivated by personal experiences and a series of observations and case studies recorded and conducted at MIT’s graduate and undergraduate architecture and design studios. My study examines a crucial set of dialectics: subjectivity and objectivity, agency and structure, and political and personal narratives.

The hypothesis is that the structures embodying students’ relationships — the self and society, the self and others, and the self and self — are all essential to how design identities develop, yet these relationships are often unintentionally unrealized due to the inherent challenge of developing personal design intentions. Examination of this hypothesis led me to instrumentalize students’ personal narratives as a design tool to emancipate their agency through worldmaking exercises, and thus promoting students’ agency in a process of developing a personal design language, geometries, and visual imagination.

The study herein offers a pedagogical framework — experimental case studies part of a larger aspired transformative reform — the first running in tandem with core studios, and the second a workshop that followed. Both case studies utilized introspective and performative design practices to help students harness a personal sense of narrative, methods of representation, design language and their embodying social and cultural identity. Through this framework, students cultivate their own personal “worlds,” in awareness of the embedded structures. This framework is a step towards a pedagogically transformative and socially solidaristic project of decolonizing personal narratives – a tale of designers’ voice realization.