Uncreative Design


A1 – Caption Machine

Caption Machine

Design a machine that selects a set of images and selects a caption for each image.

A machine means that you are not selecting the individual images or captions yourself. You are defining an algorithm – a methodical system – that selects the images and the captions for you, and that assigns a caption to a particular image. It does not mean you have to build a physical device – a machine can be an assemblage of ideas, or processes, or instructions. The point is that after you design the machine, you are not making subjective choices about the images and the captions.

You will present a brief description of your machine (this can be an oral description, a written description or a diagram). You will present 25 image/caption pairs to the class. The final medium is for you to determine. Physical outputs should be pinned up in the classroom prior to the next class.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing, First Episode:

– John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Chapter 1
– William S. Burroughs, The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin, http://www.ubu.com/papers/burroughs_gysin.html

slides from class:
– Caption Machines

A2 – Web Derive

In Uncreative Writing, Kenneth Goldsmith tells us about the derive and detournement, situationist tactics for re-invigorating our relationship with the city and with media. You are going to do the same, but with the web.

You will go about your web-surfing normally, but you will become hyper aware of the design and context (how did you get to that page, what links did you follow, what social media service where you using?) of each page you visit. You will begin to assemble bits and pieces from each of these pages – images, snippets of text, urls, etc….

Using the collected snippets, you will create a SIMPLE map of your derive through the web. Tracking your own navigation, as well as what you choose to collect during this navigation is more important than a clever formal resolution. WHat is the simplest, most obvious way to display and share the information you have collected with your colleagues? What story does the collected information tell? Does your map reveal anything about your surfing habits, the sites you visit, the web in general? DId you take an unexpected detour on the web? Discover entire new sections, or categories of videos you have no idea existed? This assignment is about consciously navigating and tracking that navigation across the web.

read more

A3 – Parse

From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

parse |pärs|
verb [ with obj. ]
analyze (a sentence) into its parts and describe their syntactic roles.
Computing analyze (a string or text) into logical syntactic components, typically in order to test conformability to a logical grammar.
• examine or analyze minutely: he has always been quick to parse his own problems in public.

noun Computing
an act of or the result obtained by parsing a string or a text.

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: perhaps from Middle English pars ‘parts of speech,’ from Old French pars ‘parts’ (influenced by Latin pars ‘part’).

Parsing is an act of analysis, in which a composition is broken up into its components. A Parsing is simalar to a reading or a translation, though parsing tends to focus on one particular aspect of the original composition. For this assignment, you will select a composition. This can be a writing composition, a photographic composition, a graphic composition, or a musical composition. You will devise a system by which to parse your chosen composition. Your parsing must relate specifically to your chosen composition. Think specifically about the composition you selected: does your parsing method make sense with this composition? Is it so general that it can be applied to anything?

You will present the original composition, the rules for parsing the composition, and the parsed composition. The rules must be explicitly stated, either as the title of the work, a key to the work, a textual or oral addendum. Your viewer must somehow understand the rule and be able to judge each parsed component based on your parsing rules.

slides from class:
– parse

A4 – Erase

palimpsest |ˈpalimpˌsest|
• a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
• something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form: Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners.

palimpsestic |ˌpalimpˈsestik|adjective

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: via Latin from Greek palimpsēstos, from palin ‘again’ + psēstos ‘rubbed smooth.’

For this assignment, you will select a composition. This can be a writing composition, a photographic composition, a graphic composition, or a musical composition. You will erase parts of the composition: this can be systematic or intuitive. Think of the relation your new composition bears to the previous composition: are you focusing your viewer’s attention on a certain aspect of the composition, revealing structural attributes, highlighting questionable materiel, testing the breaking limits of the previous composition?

You will present the original composition and the erased composition in class next week.

A5 – Chance

For first you write a sentence,
And then you chop it small;
Then mix the bits and sort them out
Just as they chance to fall:
The order of the phrases
makes no difference at all.

-Lewis Carroll: “Poeta fit, non nascitur.” In: Rhyme? and Reason? London: Macmillan, 1883. Reprinted in: The works of Lewis Carroll (Teltham/Middlesex, 1965), p. 804.

How do you generate a composition that will entirely surprise you? That is yours, but for which you could not predict the outcome? This week, you will invent or find a chance procedure that generates interesting compositions. You should bring a minimum of 10 of these compositions to class. Try to bring a range of compositions based on the same chance operation: boring ones, surprising ones, interesting ones, meaningful ones.

Consider the source of your chance procedure: does it reveal something about the world you live in? About you? Is chance the same as pure randomness, or does chance relate to the odds of something happening in a given context? Is exploring these odds meaningful? Do chance operations allow the context to imprint itself on your compositions?

slides: chance

A6 – Default

default |diˈfôlt|


1 failure to fulfill an obligation, esp. to repay a loan or appear in a court of law: it will have to restructure its debts to avoid default.

2 a preselected option adopted by a computer program or other mechanism when no alternative is specified by the user or programmer: the default is fifty lines | [ as modifier ] : default settings.


For this assignment, you will select a tool, a medium, a format or a typology to explore. What are the ‘defaults’ inherent to the tool? What are the most standard ways of using it? The most thoughtless ways? Are these defaults built in to the tool? Do they come from habit? From social custom? From repetition? From material constraints?

You will produce a minimum of 5 different compositions that use the defaults of your chosen tool,medium,format or typology. Try to push the defaults to the max. At what point do the compositions feel generic? Can they be made to feel like a frame through which to draw the viewer’s attention to the defaults themselves?


slides: default

A7 – Collect

For this assignment you will create a collection of images, compositions, sounds, etc…
Think of how your sources relate: is there a process for collecting them? a particular time of day? a particular path? a particular location? a particular typology? How is meaning produced by collecting things from this source or sources.
You will then think of how you present your composition, how you make it accessible to the viewer. You should add nothing or as little as possible that is not part of the collection. How do you organize the objects in your collection? How do you order them? Juxtapose them? What meaning is produced by this ordering system?

Final Assignment

For your final assignment, you will pick one of your responses to the previous prompts and develop it into a completed assignment. What context do you imagine your prompt could be used in? What is its final form? Who is its audience. HOw do you turn your uncreative prompt into a larger piece of design that stands on its own?

Though the initial impetus for the assignment you will pick was a single prompt, you may now move beyond that original prompt. However, your project should still be as ‘uncreative’ as possible – you should generate as little ‘new’ form as possible, but explore the mechanisms and processes we have covered in class to assemble, gather, parse and organize your content in your chosen format.

Due Next Week

Next week you will come to class with a printed design brief and a visual presentation (powerpoint/keynote/pdf) that is no longer than 5 minutes.

The Design Brief outlines the ‘who-what-when-where-how’ of your project:
– what the project inquiry will serve to inform
– why the project is useful, it’s value
– who this will serve
– where the product will function, it’s context
– how you envision the outcome, it’s form, style, materials and process

The Design Brief also includes the following
– title, subtitle, one line description
– your name
– general introduction
– goals and objectives
– audience
– schedule and time frame

Your Design Brief should be short for this assignment – keep it to a single page.

Your visual presentation should contain the materials you generated during your initial response to the prompt. It should also contain some sketches or ideas of how you will develop the work into a project, taking into account the feedback you received in class.