Slowing Production, Increasing Socio-Political Context: Beyond “Spreading Awareness” in the Design Classroom

A feminist base motivates us to engage questions around power relations, knowledge production, and systems of violence

Becky Nasadowski
Assistant Professor
University of Tennessee at Chattanoo

In recent years, many universities have embraced “diversity” with oblique statements of support. Related, design educators have rightfully sought strategies for inclusive pedagogy, increasing representation and working toward ensuring the classroom is comfortable. But inclusive is not synonymous with anti-racist, which requires antagonism and a reckoning with the pervasive inequities baked into our different fields and methods, the university, and our social relationships and histories.

In this presentation, I will provide an overview of my studio-seminar course Politics and Ethics of Design, where a feminist base motivates us to engage questions around power relations, knowledge production, and systems of violence. A substantial reading list frames sustained conversations on the politics of race, class, and gender as it relates to the field of design, creating a critical foundation for design practice. Select topics include data feminism and counter cartography, the designer’s role in constructing notions of citizenship, the limits of empathy in design thinking, and the neoliberal entanglement of work and passion. 

By providing an anchor through reading and conversation, I ask design students to consider in their studio practice urgent questions: How do we respond to historical omissions? How do we interface with social movements? How do we act with an awareness of history that complicates liberal concepts of empathy as paramount? If we want students to engage power and sincerely explore what an anti-racist practice and education look like, then we need to fully engage in how design has traditionally played—and continues to play—a role in bolstering social inequity.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

Colored Bodies: Cultural Constructs in Standard Color Theory Pedagogy

Some of the most problematic aspects of standard color theory education

Aaron Fine
Truman State University

Color theory is often presented as a purely formal matter, with no suggestion that the color we are speaking of might apply to our bodies and all that they entail in terms of race, class, and gender. Despite the availability of focused research on isolated aspects of this problem, and more inclusive chapters being added to standard color theory textbooks, our default mode is to privilege a narrative that invokes the color science of Isaac Newton. We often imply that color wheels, primaries, and secondaries are universally applicable phenomena. But the truth is that each of these is a cultural construct with at best a tenuous connection to the natural laws of physics. And when Winckelmann stated, in his discipline founding writings, that “a beautiful body will, accordingly, be the more beautiful the whiter it is” he made perfectly clear that the more (or less) white bodies he was speaking of were our own. 

Drawing on content from my recently published book Color Theory: A Critical Introduction, I will discuss briefly some of the most problematic aspects of standard color theory education and suggest some of the ways we might improve our theory, practice, and pedagogy in this area. Topics include the rise of colorimetry in the mid 20th century, the embrace of spiritual notions about color, and colonialist views of certain cultures being more “colorful” than others. Grounded in scholarly research this presentation is relevant to design theory and pedagogy, but also has implications for creative practice. 

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 8.2: Annual CAA Conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.