4.657
Design: The History of Making Things

Enrollment: 
Limited to 36
Required of: 
Architecture minors; Design minor elective

The term design has many meanings, but at its core it refers to the human capacity to shape the environment we inhabit. Design is as old as humanity itself and studying its history provides a way to think critically about the past through the lens of design. 

To think critically about design is to understand not only its history of successes, but also its missteps and its unintended consequences. This course examines all three aspects, following themes in the history of design with an emphasis on design for organized manufacture from the eighteenth century to the present. Though its focus is on Euro-American theory and practice, we seek to situate both in their global contexts, contexts that range from early modern transcontinental trade to imperialism to contemporary globalization.  

Questions the course will pose include: How have the processes and products of design been shaped by new technological possibilities, whether the discovery of silk, the invention of the automatic loom, or the development of the computer? How have constraints, whether material, legislative, or aesthetic, impacted design? What role has design played in globalizing capitalist consumer desire, and how, in turn, has it been mobilized in the service of alternative economic and political systems? What are the ethics of design in age of inequality and environmental crisis? Finally, how have the meanings we assign to design been mediated by magazines, exhibitions, corporate communication, glossy design monographs, and advertising?