4.110J | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Design Across Scales, Disciplines and Problem Contexts


Assignment 1: Design of Representation (create a representational system that communicates information)


Representations are, like design itself, acts of translation. They help us clarify, express, and communicate our ideas. Whether visual or material, digital or physical, representations are a highly effective design tool and have contributed to many of the most significant revolutions in human civilization. Consider Galileo’s representation of the world that brought about the Copernican revolution, or London’s Tube Map that revolutionized our conception of underground public transportation based on circuit diagrams.

Look around you, and consider any type of information that you would like to represent in order to communicate an idea. Whether you are concerned about global warming, dog food, political regimes, silkworms, the state of education, fast-food, poverty, or why butterflies fly—simply collect relevant information about the phenomenon you would like to analyze and design a representational system for it. The representational system can be static or dynamic (animated), digital or physical (or both), still or responsive. By the time the assignment is due you will have attended the “Representation” session and read some of the suggested readings.


  • Work in groups of 2–3 students from different departments/disciplines.
  • Deliver a class presentation on the representational system.

Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. Objectivity. Zone Books, 2007. ISBN: 9781890951788.

Buy at MIT Press Maeda, John. The Laws of Simplicity. MIT Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780262134729.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” Chapter 1 in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Signet, 1964.

Tufte, Edward. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press, 1990. ISBN: 9780961392116.

Assignment 2: Design of Fabrication (make something that helps you make something)


The term fabricate comes from the Latin fabricare which means to make, construct, fashion, or build. The term can also be used to mean a falsehood, forgery, or fiction. This play on the word fabricate suggests a rich and nuanced relationship between the concept and the construct, and the translation of imagination into physical reality.

Tools, techniques, and technologies are essential to the act of fabrication. A tool is an instrument or means to accomplish a specific action in the making process (i.e., screwdriver, press, needle and thread). A technique is a method or procedure to accomplish a specific manner of making (i.e., molding, stacking, knitting). A technology is the making of combined tools and techniques to accomplish a particular function (i.e., printing press, loom, 3D printer). For this assignment, you are asked to make something that helps you make something and use it to make that something. Specifically, we are asking you to design and fabricate a specific tool, technique, or technology that enables the creation of a unique object or construct. You need to design both the “something that makes something” and the “something.” The tool or technique should not be understood as making something generic but rather, making something particular—you are not making a general or universal tool/technique but a highly specific tool/technique. Consider the difference between a jig versus a template versus a guide versus a pattern versus a mold.

Your “something” can be any scale and made out of any material. It can be edible, wearable, inhabitable, etc. It can be useful or useless. It can be simple or complex. It can be temporal or permanent. You can do this individually or in teams of two. Concentrate on the relationship between the tool/technique and the final designed object/construct, and design them together.


  • Produce a video to document both the “something that makes something” and the “something.”
  • Individual projects limited to 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Partner projects limited to 3 minute 30 seconds maximum.

Aranda, Benjamin, and Chris Lasch. Pamphlet Architecture 27: Tooling. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005. ISBN: 9781568985473. [Preview with Google Books]

Spencer, Jessica, and Chris Lefteri. Making It: Manufacturing Techniques for Product Design. Laurence King Publishing, 2007. ISBN: 9781856695060.

Maker Media. www.makezine.com.

Assignment 3: Design of Play (design a game that abstracts a global issue)


Despite the fact that we often think of games as frivolous and primarily for children, gameplay may be understood to be a fundamental human condition. Johan Huizinga, in his book Homo Ludens, describes gameplay as primary means of generating culture. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s six rules for play go on to define a game as an artificial system that has rules, players, conflict, and an ending state.

Games exist across cultures and over time have evolved from purely conceptual games (word games, strategy games) to games with physical artifacts (pieces, markers, figures) to digital games and massive, multiplayer virtual games.

The open-endedness of games is essential. Almost anything can be a game. They have varying degrees of physical components. For this assignment, you are asked to design, build, and test a game. Consider the various types of games: strategy, race, single or multiplayer. Define the scale and scope of the game. This may be scaled to the tabletop (as in a board game), or it may be at the scale of a city (as in a multiplayer scavenger hunt game). Carefully consider how many users will be playing the game (Solitare or MMU massive multiplayer universe). Create a clear rule set and instructions. The instructions will allow another group to understand how the game is played. For this assignment, you are required to utilize a new fabrication tool or technique that you learned in this course.

Once the game is produced, you should play the game as well as allow another group to play the game. Document the process of gameplay and how it does or does not conform to your initial expectations. Learn from the users of the game and modify the game based on the user’s input.


  • Work in groups of 2–3 students from different departments/disciplines.
  • Design and build a game. Play the game.
  • Have another group play the game and document the game play.
  • Incorporate learnings and observations from game play into the design, and update the game.

Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Beacon Press, 1971. ISBN: 9780807046814.

Zimmerman, Eric. “Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process (PDF - 5.17MB).” July 8, 2003.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Design Assignments with Examples