In this course, we will experiment with a set of digital tools for the networked production of texts and images, as well as with a variety of contemporary and obsolescent environments and platforms for their circulation. A large part of our interest is aesthetic: we are keen to discover and amplify “new” and immanent aesthetics within these digital environments, through both research and experiment.

The course is based in theory and practice. We will consistently aim to bring together these two, often discrete, parts of design. In terms of aesthetics, a major emphasis of the course is devising new ways of naming and talking about the digital effects we will sample, tweak, and invent. We are particularly interested in the hypnotic, the mesmerizing, the cute, the viral, and the zany (borrowing from Sianne Ngai).

As we make these aesthetic investigations, we will focus on the manipulation of online default design systems and templates, in order to produce new qualities of images, texts, and arrangements or composites of both. We will focus on complicating the use of primitive tools, rather than becoming skilled in advanced programming languages. Rather than approaching design as an activity we conduct “from scratch” or by fundamentals, what can we learn by appropriating “dirty” tools to produce “goofy” appearances? How can we turn fast and simple online image generators towards our own critical ends? What new forms might follow when we hack and customize, rather than create from fundamentals?

In this course we will additionally attempt to think critically about our contemporary digital subjectivities, through reading and writing and role playing in social media. We will investigate how affect and emotion are produced in contemporary “sharing” networks. How does our life online require the formation of new identities? Do we have new freedoms to develop multiple identities and fictional avatars in these social terrains? Or are we compelled to constantly consolidate a single personhood or profile across platforms and economies? What new kinds of comradery are possible; what new forms of violence?

There will be regular readings and discussion throughout the semester, as we aim to cultivate a critical understanding of the ways and means by which digital aesthetics and economy impact both our sense of self AND horizons of social and political possibility. We will consider, along the way, design’s diminished or expanded vocation in this new terrain.

After making a series of experiments with a variety of web-native image forms and formats, students will produce a final visual-verbal essay which makes a new statement about digital aesthetics and its attendent forms of life.

All course work will be posted to social media platforms which we link together in a set of networks. All images will be posted to tumblr and all texts to blogspot.

Some course objectives

+ to gain facility with manipulating available tools and default systems for generating images and customizing content;
+ to learn to theorize and experiment with new aesthetic modalities of the web, beyond those inherited from older media forms like print;
+ to think critically about the circulation of texts and images in contemporary digital networked platforms;
+ to cultivate critical thinking about contemporary digital culture and its constitutive forms of sociality.

Grading policies

The rough breakdown of how I will determine your grade at the end of the semester is:
+ 50% the work
+ 50% the thought & words (as expressed in presentations and discussions)

And any deliverable which is undelivered, or late, will count against your final grade. Two absences and/or one lateness is acceptable and will not adversely affect your grade. Three absences will diminish your grade by one full step (i.e., a becomes b, b becomes c, etcetera). Four absences is technically grounds for failure, though with extenuating circumstances, exceptions can be made. Three lateness equals one absence.

I am happy to meet at any time to individually review your work and progress in the course.