Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1-27-2019


alternatives, critical thinking, design, refractive practice, teaching, transversality


Critical and Cultural Studies | Environmental Design | Environmental Studies | Industrial and Product Design | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Liberal Studies | Nature and Society Relations | Organization Development


Lectures from a 12-session course that addresses the intersection of design with critical thinking. Design in this course means intentionality in construction, which involves a range of materials, a sequence of steps, and principles that inform the choice of materials and the steps. Design also always involves putting people, as well as materials, into place. This happens by working with the known properties of people, as well as the known properties of material, and trying out new arrangements to work around their constraints (at least temporarily). Critical thinking, as I define it, involves understanding ideas and practices better when we examine them in relationship to alternatives. Design cannot proceed without the idea that there are alternatives to the current way of doing things, even if you have not yet found those alternatives, or have not yet found the best ones, or have not yet been able to put them into practice. So critical thinking is in design from the start.

Alternative designs are exposed and explored during the course through multiple lenses. First, design is explored through historical cases that illustrate how things have by no means always been the way they are now. Second, the class does archaeology of the present to shed light on what we might have taken for granted, relegated as someone else’s responsibility, or deferred to someone who is a specialist. Third, the class compares how things are arranged in different organizations and different cultures. And finally, through their own design sketches, students examine ill-defined problems in cases of real-world living complexity that invite a range of responses.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.