Creativity in Letting Go of Certainties

Dannell MacIlwraith
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Admit it; designers are control freaks.

I know that in both my work and my life, I have been a very intentional, controlling person who feels safe within a set of clearly defined parameters. But in order to grow, I have been experimenting with letting myself abandon control and accept uncontrollable components within my designs. The unexpected makes life and design interesting and stimulating. The detachment of control has added new systems to my work, practice, and curriculum. The elements of unpredictability, chance and accident have a long (but under appreciated) tradition in design, threading through the Dada movement and the visual culture of John Cage, Stefan Bucher and Daniel Eatock.

Relinquishing some control has added new techniques to my work, practice, and lifestyle. I employ my newfound methodologies in material explorations, layout techniques, and “blind” elements that create chance outcomes.

Chance methodologies that produce unexpected results can be integrated within both analog and digital techniques. These methodologies have included student projects utilizing india ink with air duster to create abstract shapes. These organic/non-controlled shapes are the first steps to animated illustration. (dannelldesigns.com/ink-2018) Within my own work, I have used the weather as means of ‘choosing’ color for a website. The temperature dictates the color scheme for the site; the warmer the temperature the warmer the colors; the cooler the temperature the cooler the colors. (dannelldesigns.com)

My research is designed for me to accept the imperfections and chaos of life. There will be unexpected elements to work with and through. Is this a relatable subject to society? Designers are problem-solvers and form the elements of their work. The process of being a “chooser” and deciding on fonts, colors, and layout is authoritative. How can we teach our students to not only be ‘choosers’ but to be open to unexpected and uncontrollable outcomes? By letting go of control, we can gain new experiences and happy accidents.

Leveraging the Smartphone as a Teaching Tool

Heather Snyder-Quinn
Professional Lecturer
DePaul University
College of Computing and Digital Media
School of Design

Heather Snyder-Quinn 
Professional Lecturer
DePaul University 
College of Computing and Digital Media 
School of Design

Educators are often frustrated with students’ constant attachment to their smartphones. But why do we assume the smartphone isn’t a creative tool akin to a pencil or brush—a simple way of seeing and interpreting the world around us?

As the world of design vacillates forever between the digital and analog, it’s imperative that students (and educators) understand an ever-expanding array of principles. In the words of Seymour Papert: “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” And as classroom content grows, the best thing we can teach students is how to be adaptive and curious thinkers.

Students can best embrace uncertainty and find comfort in a process of discovery by exploring and pushing the boundaries of the familiar. This is where the phone excels as a teaching tool. Analogous to the way a drawing teacher encourages mark-making with a branch or one’s foot, we can use a smartphone’s features in unintended ways that harness its power as a creative tool by altering our own expectations.

The smartphone is a device that most students have as an extension of their hand (though we must be vigilant of our own assumptions from privilege). Once students learn to use the smartphone in unintended and perceptively novel ways, they can extend this method to both past technologies and those yet to be imagined. By having students hack, make, and create in this manner, we are teaching them to think beyond the hand and machine, to the tool that has not yet been discovered.

Lastly, by exploring/investigating the capabilities of, and ever-present reliance upon our smartphones, we can raise awareness and open the classroom conversation to discuss ethical implications in design, including privilege, accessibility, inclusion, privacy and addiction.