Mash Maker: Improvisation for Design Student Studios

A design charrette that explores the collision of time and form through a system of carefully devised prompts.

Ryan Slone
Assistant Professor
University of Arkansas

Bree McMahon
Assistant Professor
University of Arkansas

As design educators, we feel it is imperative to prepare students for the wicked problems of the 21st century. Design Futures, the briefing papers released by AIGA in 2018, anticipates a complex future where design solutions must be increasingly open-ended to accommodate many layers of uncertainty. To model such unpredictable constraints, we developed the Mash Maker project, a design charrette that explores the collision of time and form through a system of carefully devised prompts. The conditions encouraged first-year design students to utilize improvisation methods, iteration, and collaboration while underscoring the value of process over outcome. 

Music provided a logical framework for exploring this relationship, specifically hip-hop, using time-based characteristics to structure sound (Caswell). In many ways, a beat mimics “the grid,” a principle of design. For example, students designed songs in real-time using specific visual and typographic prompts. By designing and listening in tandem, students connected the auditory to the visual in a pro-process experience that often led to uncertain territory. 

The outcomes of this project revealed to students the value of improvisation, conceptual design, and tackling wicked problems. Students learned to avoid fixation, something designers — especially novices — often struggle to overcome (Cross 2010). In learning principles of improvisation, students experienced their potential to “increase creativity by encouraging positive evaluation of deviant ideas” (Kleinmintz, Goldstein, Abecasis, Shamay-Tsoory, 2014). Moreover, in fostering community, they built a studio culture of solidarity, collaboration, and participation.

Unforeseen Structures: Chaos, Materials, and Emergent Process

Mitch Goldstein
Assistant Professor
School of Design

Rochester Institute of Technology 

My research focuses on the examination of form and methodology using darkroom photography techniques, specifically the photogram. Photograms use no cameras or lenses — instead, objects are placed on or near unexposed photographic paper and briefly exposed to light. This process results in abstract black and white compositions, which emerge unpredictably from the physical materials used in their creation. Control is relinquished, and instead intuition and chance allow form and structure to develop from the process.

This work closely parallels my visual design practice working in publication design, as well as my applied pedagogy teaching art and design students. My talk focuses on three concepts that this research explores: how to work with chaos and unpredictability, the usage and synthesis of materials and methods, and the exploitation of emergent process. My photogram work, my publication design work, and some of my classroom projects will be shown as examples of these ideas and how they manifest across different contexts.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.