Personal Making Assignment 4: Design Noir

Film noir: a genre categorized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity

As designers and engineers, we are actively building a new future. Much of this class (and to be honest, your liberal arts education) focuses on how to build a future responsibly and ethically. But behind every “happily-ever-after” veneer of technology lurks a dark and strange world driven by different human needs, values, desires, and vices. By brainstorming and designing only “good” ideas, we constrain ourselves from the full range of potential designs. (Mostly for “good reason.”) But in this assignment, challenge yourself and give yourself license to explore a different range of design. You’ll come up with three ideas in the domain of design noir.

  1. Design a tool or object that facilitates emotions of loss, abandonment, loneliness, and self-pity. Potential intended users include someone who just got dumped, someone who lost a beloved pet or human, or someone leaving behind a wonderful community to move to a new town for school/a job and is having a hard time making new friends.

  2. Design a tool or object that encourages users to be as wasteful as possible. Potential sites of waste include garbage, energy, time, other’s time, money, the environment, natural resources, clothing. Your design can be for collectives (for instance, maybe a pro-waste game) or for individuals.

  3. Design a tool or object or app/website that helps new college grads make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. Like, we’re talking $1 million dollars a year minimum, straight into the user’s bank account. Doesn’t matter where the money comes from, or how ethically it appears, but it has to come from somewhere. Possible things to consider: where is the money coming from? How does your design convince others to give you that money? What does your tool/object/app offer in return?

The learning goal of these exercises is to stretch your design skills into explicitly “anti-social” domains. What kinds of things can you envision now that we have relaxed “design for good” constraints? Be creative and have fun!

Note that I am not looking for finished, real objects, but rather good ideas. As such, all you need to turn in for each piece is a title, written description, and at least one image to communicate the idea (such as a storyboard or sketch).

Grading & Submission

On Canvas, a PDF that contains:

  • For each prompt, a (1) title of your piece, (2) at least one image of your piece—can be a storyboard or sketch, and (3) a brief written explanation of how your piece works ( ~250 words max).
  • In addition to each piece, include at the end of the PDF a brief reflection paragraph saying (1) what you found challenging/easy about this assignment and (2) how you would react to each of your pieces if they actually existed.
  • Please bring printouts/physical copies of your 3 designs to class on Tuesday, April 9 for our crit.

Estimated/expected time: It is my hope you spend no more than 4 hours on this assignment. One hour generally brainstorming (try taking a walk), and then an hour each on writing up each of the prompts.


  • ✓+ : Students put substantial thought into every prompt and brainstormed tool/object ideas that were unexpected, creative, and deep
  • ✓ : Students addressed all the prompts thoughtfully
  • ✓- : Students missed a prompt or brainstormed relatively generic or “safe” ideas, or didn’t turn in a reflection/feedback paragraph