Studio Intensive: Design Performance

Faculty: Sinclair Smith




Design Performance is a second semester course that takes an improvisational approach to organizing first-year student work and presenting it to the community in an end-of-year exposition. Products and ideas perform specific roles in our lives, and we perform specific roles in relation to them. A designer manipulates the roles and relationships between products and users. In this light, the designer can be seen as director in the highly malleable and controllable theater of the designed world. Drawing from a long history of human storytelling and performance techniques, Design Performance explores new possibilities for communicating innovative design work. Just as the program breaks from a commitment to traditional artifacts of product design, this course breaks from traditional notions of design presentation. And just as the curriculum encourages radical solutions to consumer needs, this course encourages radical means of introducing those solutions. It guides students through an evaluation of their product and design ideas and develops the ideal forum for presenting those ideas.



The objective of this course is to teach students to push the boundaries of design presentation. Because of the array of media available today, the means of grabbing consumer attention are vast and open to wide experimentation. This course discovers and sets the ideal stage for showing the class’s work. In this class, students design and construct a show of their work with the following objectives: to obtain a strong foundation in design presentation through studying traditional and modern media; to learn and practice design and building techniques in the fields of exhibition design and stage construction; to explore human performance as a part of the designed experience and to study how to convey new performances to consumers; to explore how ideas and products gain life and meaning in the context of human relationships; to present the unique group of students in the class and their work; and to present the philosophy of the program to the community.



Design Theater begins as a seminar with lecture and discussion. Students learn traditions of presentation and explore how new presentation styles can reflect new consumer values and behaviors. As a vision of the students’ presentation emerges, the seminar becomes a studio where students design and build the sets and props for the exposition. Students effectively become a production company, assigning roles based on relative strengths, and managing their time working as a group. They are responsible for making a presentation that highlights the work of their peers as much as their own. Through this process, students also gain insight into design management and how much human and environmental capital gets expended by introducing new designs.



Students in this course will come away with a set of tools to:

  • Analyze the behavioral and performative nature of design and design artifacts
  • Conceive robust environments and contexts for presenting their work
  • Design ergonomically appropriate spaces within which to present their work
  • Thoughtfully and safely manipulate construction tools and materials
  • Apply traditional design, theatrical, and marketing techniques in innovative ways
  • Invite unfamiliar people into unfamiliar environments to explore and embrace new ideas and behaviors