Is Aesthetics in Design the right course for you?

I’m writing to give you a bit more information about the course, and get you thinking about your design projects for the course. You might have already gotten most of this in an email, but I’m always tweaking things, so please read again.

This is an experimental course. We will be studying how to improve the course for the future as well as its effect on you, so you will be asked to participate in surveys and interviews. If this is going to make you uncomfortable, this might not be the best course for you.

Its experimental nature also means that the content and structure of the course may change somewhat as we go along, particularly as we adapt to current pandemic conditions. Again, if this is going to make you uncomfortable, please reconsider. On the other hand, we will be very open to student input. Consider this a design process that you will be able to influence.

This is a project class. You’ll be expected to create two main artifacts. You’ll have access to some of the resources of the ITLL and the Idea Forge such as technician advice and you’ll be able to submit CAD plans for 3D printing and laser cutting, but there is currently no direct access to the shops, as far as I know. Some of you have access to personal tools and shops, which you are welcome to use. However, you’ll have to work within these constraints in your designs. Virtual projects such as purely CAD designs will be acceptable, but documentation requirements will be higher for those.

In the past this was a team based class, but that is very hard to coordinate these days. Instead, you will be on your own for the hands-on, fabrication portion of the course. You’ll be placed in ‘pods’, teams of 6 to 8, to get feedback and suggestions on your designs throughout the semester.

This course will provide a venue to display your design work and process, to highlight your skills as a creative engineer and/or artist. You will be expected to document your progress via weekly blog postings on the class website,, so if you are planning to create something that you want to keep proprietary, this course is not for you. This is a high visibility website with around 150 hits daily from around the world, and your posted work will become part of your permanent online professional identity. When a future employer googles your name, your work from this course will come up. If you are not comfortable with this, then you don’t want to take this course.

There will be no textbook required for the course, but you will be expected to contribute $150 towards any materials needed for your project.

Another unusual aspect of the course is that while you will get ongoing feedback about your progress, it won’t be in the form of points to be accumulated towards a grade. Instead we will use in-class peer critiques and written reviews. You’ll learn to both give and take constructive feedback in public. If you need a concrete grading structure, this course might not be for you.

Course grades are based on fulfilling all assignments, including participating in class and pods. Everyone can earn an A; this course is not about grades. However, you will have trouble if you do not take ownership of your learning. What you get out of the course will be in direct proportion to what you put in. At the end of the semester, I’ll ask you what grade you’ve earned with your blog posts as evidence.

On the positive side, this course is likely going to be a wonderful experience. You may find it a refuge from other courses. Stretching your creativity and making a meaningful artifact is immensely rewarding, and can help you through this difficult time.

We’d like you to start thinking about what you want to create for your projects. The first project will be ‘upcycling’. You can make anything you want from recycled free or low cost materials, such as cardboard, bottle corks or rags. Start collecting them now! Your main project will be  the one you spend money on, and the only requirement is that it be a dynamic artifact; i.e. not static. It could be interactive with the environment or with people, but it could also just be changing on its own. It could serve a purpose, or just make an artistic or aesthetic statement. You’ll need to think about the scope of the project, based on the resources described to you. Please think about your goals, and what you would like to have at the end of the course, both in real artifacts, and in learning. More information about the course is available at Take a look at past semester’s lecture notes, schedules and student work.

If you think this course is not for you, please keep in mind that there are other folks on the wait list in some sections, so please don’t delay your decision. I’ll be happy to chat with you if you have questions; email me at

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