CS181DT: Computational Design Tools

Spring 2024 • Pomona College

Tue/Thu 2:45-4:00pm • Estella 2113

Nothing on this website is final until the first day of class, and even then, we’re always evolving.

Overview

What makes a good tool? How should we think about the design and evaluation of computational tools, like Photoshop? What are the advantages and disadvantages of computational tools compared to analog tools, like a pen?

In this course, students will discuss, critique, and create their own computational tools that support art, creativity, and design. Students will work both individually on weekly making assignments and in a team to create an open-ended software “creativity support tool” through peer critique and testing sessions.

Prerequisites: As this course involves programming an interactive software system, CSCI 062 PO or CSCI 070 HM is required. Students will also complete projects that involve digital fabrication design, but no prior knowledge in those domains is assumed.


This course is divided into three rough modules:

  • Making (Weeks 1-5)

    Before you make your own tools, you should become proficient at using existing tools. Topics include the background on the “maker” movement, design activism, analog and digital fabrication techniques, and creative coding. The first third culminates in a group project applying these making skills.

  • Making tools (Weeks 5-11)

    Informed by your reflections on your earlier tool use, you’ll now begin building your own. You’ll apply the full human centered design process for designing and developing interactive systems: brainstorming, needfinding, low fidelity prototyping, software system design, iteration, and evaluation–the “how” to make tools. You’lll also be introduced to research in human-computer interaction around making, tools, and fabrication, as well as influential theories of creativity and sociotechnical principles from other fields–the “why” to make tools. The second third culminates in an in-class “Wizard-of-Oz” evaluation of your tool, where you’ll share with fellow students an everything-but-implementation version for feedback and testing.

  • Craft (Weeks 12-15)

    As you work on implementing your tool in software, the class will look at more critical dimensions of software automation. What are the limitations of computation in the art and design domain? How can we stay sensitive to rich craft traditions in our tool design? What is the purpose of “art” in computation, anyway? The course culminates in a project showcase of the completed computational design tools.

Each class section will be a mix of 2-3 of the following styles of modules, approximately 20-30 minutes each:

  • Lecture

    Lecture

    : The instructor will lecture on various topics, such as giving an overview of a knowledge field. Usually followed by a seminar or studio.
  • Seminar

    Seminar

    : A discussion guided by two students on assigned readings.
  • Studio

    Studio

    : A guided activity, such as a making tutorial; a class critique

    Crit

    of a personal making or project assignment; project work time.

In general, students should bring their laptop and something to write with to every class.

The learning outcomes of this course are that students will:

  • develop a critical understanding of past and present making technologies and design tools, and their roles within current cultural and social contexts
  • make expressive and interactive objects and tools that critique and advance computing culture
  • establish proficiency with the fundamental concepts, methods, and practices of physical modeling, sketching, form giving, and hands-on making across a range of materials
  • be able to evaluate tools and interactive systems with quantitative and qualitative methods understand and critique social, ethnographic, engineering, and design-oriented research practices
  • improve their capacity to motivate and frame HCI research questions and contributions
  • improve their presentation and feedback skills through in class studio critiques

Schedule

Schedule subject to change due to feedback and student needs.

Week Date Topic Due (2:30pm)
1A Jan 16 Intro: “design” and “tools”

Lecture

Course survey (EOD)
1B Jan 18 Making & hacking culture; class norms

ZC

Lecture

Seminar



Readings: Making or Making Do? Challenging the mythologies of making and hacking, AI Art and its impact on artists
2A Jan 23 Critique norms; designing futures; P1 released

ZC

PM1 Crit

Seminar

(PDF)

Readings: Design fiction (sections 01, 02, 06), Disobedient objects (pgs 7-19)
PM1: Hacking zine
2B Jan 25 Analog fabrication techniques (foamcore)

ZC

Studio


3A Jan 30 Digital fabrication techniques

PM2 Crit

Studio

PM2: Analog making
3B Feb 1 HMC Makerspace visit

ZC

Studio


P1: Storyboards
4A Feb 6 Creative coding

ZC

Studio

4B Feb 8 Project office hours & work time  

Studio

5A Feb 13 Project 1 presentation  

P1 Crit

Project 1 (EOD)
5B Feb 15 Research area: Design tools for digital fabrication

PM3 Crit

Seminar

(PDF)

Readings: Personal Fabrication Chs 1 & 8, see also list of personal fabrication research projects. Tools, Tricks, and Hacks: Exploring Novel Digital Fabrication Workflows on #PlotterTwitter Sections 1, 4, 5
PM3: Digital making
6A Feb 20 Research area: Creativity support tools

ZC

Seminar

(PDF)

Readings: I/O Brush (PDF), (Website). Draco (PDF), (Website). Lillicon (PDF), (Website).
6B Feb 22 Design methods: Brainstorming & inspiration; P2 released

ZC

Studio

7A Feb 27 P2 group formation; Design methods: Discovery & needfinding

Studio

Lecture

P2: Ideas
7B Feb 29 Motivating research projects (writing introductions); Project OH

Lecture

Studio

8A Mar 5 Design methods: Prototyping & iteration

ZC

Lecture

Studio

P2: Needfinding & Intro
8B Mar 7 Sociotechnical principles & theories of creativity

ZC

Seminar



Readings: TBD
9A Mar 12 Spring break 🌱
9B Mar 14 Spring break 🌻
10A Mar 19 Design methods: Evaluating tools

ZC

Lecture

Studio

10B Mar 21 Interactive software systems design

ZC

Lecture

Studio

11A Mar 26 Project 2 Wizard-of-Oz in class evaluation

ZC

Studio

P2: WoZ prototype
11B Mar 28 Project office hours & work time

ZC

Studio

12A Apr 2 Critical design, feminist design, design noir

ZC

Seminar



Readings: TBD
P2: System diagram
12B Apr 4 Materials

ZC

Seminar



Readings: TBD
13A Apr 9 Benton Museum visit

PM5 Crit

Studio


PM5: Design noir
13B Apr 11 Project 2 MVP in class evaluation

ZC

Studio

14A Apr 16 Power, art, politics

ZC

PM6 Crit

Seminar



Readings: TBD
PM6: A material conversation
14B Apr 18 Careers panel; Project work time

ZC

Studio

15A Apr 23 Project work time

ZC

PM7 Crit

Studio

PM7: Seeing
15B Apr 25 Project 2 final in class evaluation  

ZC

Studio

16A Apr 30 Final project presentations  

P2 Crit

May 1 Proj 2 (EOD)

Instructor

Jingyi Li • firstname.lastname@pomona.edu

Office hours: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays 4:15 - 5:15 PM or by appointment • Edmunds 111

This is my very first semester at Pomona College, and as an assistant professor! I hope my enthusiasm can counterbalance any natural bumps that occur along the way of this brand new class. My role in this course is to help you learn how to learn, to help facilitate learning from and teaching your peers what you already know (everyone knows something about art, even if they don’t know it), and to emotionally and academically support you through the material. In an ideal world, every class would feel like a party. Outside of the classroom, I research (you guessed it) computational design tools in the Doodle Lab. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for the past decade (I have a BS in EECS from UC Berkeley and a PhD in CS from Stanford) and consider it my home. My pronouns are they/them, and you can call me Prof. Li (but Jingyi is also fine).

My preferred method of contact is the course Slack channel. Slack is great for asking and answering questions: your classmates may have the same questions as you, you may have the answers to your classmates’ questions, and I can upvote and expand on student responses. I will be posting course announcements through Slack as well. Feel free to DM me for individual requests; I will try my best during the weekdays to respond within 24 hours.

(As it’s the first offering, there are no TAs for this course. If you loved this course and aren’t graduating, consider being a TA for future iterations!)

Grading

There are no exams in this course. There are 7 individual “personal making” assignments worth 25% of your grade and 2 group projects (worth a combined 50% of your grade). Readings and participation compose the remaining 25%.

  • 35% final project
  • 15% first project
  • 25% personal making
  • 15% readings
    • Sketchnotes (10%) - Your lowest 2 sketchnotes will be dropped
    • Leading a seminar discussion (5%)
  • 10% participation
    • Zipcrit presentation (2.5%)
    • Attendance and participation in critiques, seminar discussions, etc. (7.5%)

Assignment types

In addition to the personal making assignments and projects, other assignments for this course include:

  • Seminar leader

    Seminar

    : Students will sign up in pairs to lead a ~20 minute seminar discussion for the class on 2-3 readings. Students should spend roughly 5 minutes summarizing the key takeaways from the readings, and synthesize discussion questions or activities for the class.
  • Zipcrit

    ZC

    : Each student will sign up to present a "zipcrit" at the start of class. A zipcrit is a rapid critique of a tool (or a specific feature of a tool) of the student's choice. The presenting student has a maximum of 2 minutes and 2 slides to introduce the tool to the class, as well as one question they would like to center the discussion around. The class will then collectively critique the artifact. Students are encouraged to use an expansive definition of “tool.” It can be physical, digital, envisioned. Cute things from the depths of the internet are encouraged.
  • Sketchnotes: In lieu of traditional written responses, students will submit sketchnotes in response to reading assignments. I am in no way grading on drawing ability. For more about sketchnotes, see this page.

All assignments will be submitted and graded on Canvas. The basic flow of the course is that Personal Making assignments will be released in class on Tuesday and due the following Tuesday before class (2:30pm). Personal Making submissions should also be physically brought to Tuesday’s class to be shared and critiqued. Reading responses are always due 2:30pm before the seminar style class where we discuss them.

Grading policies

Group projects will have clear rubrics with further breakdowns. Other assignments (personal making, sketchnotes, seminar leading, zipcrit) are graded on a scale to emphasize qualitative feedback and instructor comments:

  • ✓+ : Exceeds expectations (100)
  • ✓ : Meets expectations (93-99)
  • ✓- : Needs work to meet expectations (< 93)
  • - : Clearly below expectations

For assignments scoring ✓- or below, students have the option of iterating on their work and resubmitting the assignment to gain lost points back. Resubmissions are due a week after grades and comments are released; please message the instructor if you plan on resubmitting. Points lost due to late submission cannot be regained.

I expect everyone to be an active and engaged member during our class discussions, and as such I expect everyone to get full points in participation. I strive to create an inclusive classroom where every student feels comfortable and safe sharing their thoughts. If I believe you are not participating and learning to the best of your ability, I will send you a message so we can have a conversation about ways to reduce your barriers to participating.

Course Policies

  • Students may have 3 excused absences throughout the semester as long as they inform the instructor prior to their absence. Students have 7 total late days for individual assignments (readings and personal making) to be used however they want.
  • After students have used all their late days, assignments will be docked 20% for each day past due. Please note that though late days are possible for personal making assignments, if turned in late, they cannot be critiqued in class. As group assignments are presented in class, they cannot be turned in late.
  • Students with disabilities should contact the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) to request accommodations. I am happy to have a conversation with you to help establish the best plan.
  • All policies are flexible. If you are facing an extenuating circumstance, I am happy to listen and help however possible.

Taking a large project based course can be intimidating, but I am here to help! If you need support, please come to office hours or post on Slack. I truly believe that everyone is a creative person and has the capability to excel in this course, even if you’ve never identified as being “creative” in the past.

Credits

Much of the first third of this course draws from Critical Making at UC Berkeley. Site theme based on Just the Class, a documentation theme for Jekyll.