Design Misfits, a class taught by Professor Emmanuel Guy, explores alternative design practices by focusing on a series of figures and groups characterized by a shared marginality: the witch, the savage, the queer, the pirate, the child, the disabled, the poor, the foreigner, the migrant, etc. These figures largely fall outside the conventional boundaries of design history, and are explored heavily in class as points of departure from which to challenge traditional design notions such as modernity, function, standard, crafts, technology, identity or national traditions. Examples and case studies are drawn form a broad range of objects, fictions, artifacts, and artworks as well as from museum collections based on field ethnography, material culture and non-western art. Students engage with texts, theories and methodologies from the fields of cultural studies, sociology and anthropology, before undertaking individual research projects in order to further develop their understanding of counter-hegemonic strategies (deconstructing, de-centering, decolonizing) as potential tools for artists and designers today.
Guy works towards teaching the students to demonstrate a knowledge of past and present examples of oppressive systems, critically understand crucial design notions such as standard, norm, modernity, crafts, sustainability, technology and propose strategies towards a more inclusive and critical practice of their respective disciplines. Guy does this through lectures and guest speakers such as artist Scott Treleaven, Assistant Curator at the V&A, Dani Trew, Filmmaker Raphaelle Bessette and designer Clement Rosenberg to name a few.
Within Design Misfits, two graduate students, Renee Hong and Sif Lindblad, aid Professor Guy in making connections with course material, speakers, concepts and discussions. Specifically working heavily with earlier mentioned self proclaimed witch, Clement Rosenberg and his work with the Witch Club. Rosenberg was initially inspired by the witch in his design process, and the practices of witch craft in its relation to nature and essence. Rosenberg showed an insight to our students about the relationship between the female and the kitchen, giving back power to women in domestic labour venues, thus making it no longer a labour. When I spoke with the graduate students, they expressed how important Rosenbergs work was as a way of reclaiming housework in a cycle of care and not domestic labour through the use of magic – like brooms, rags, sponges etc, all made of natural materials to restate the holistic relationship between human and household. Rosenberg presented twice within the class, discussing his own practices and introducing the knot as a traditional binding used in witchcraft to connect ideas. Hong and Lindblad expressed this importance in manifesting through physical metaphorical representation – here being two strings meaning different things and then binding them in real life through a knot. Later during Rosenberg’s second visit, our students were asked to bring in their own versions of knots and witchcraft. Afterwards, the class began discussing and debating on the reflection over witchcraft as a design or an anti-design, and how witchcraft styles, like all black outfits or nailpolish, along with other sterotypes of the witch and the misfit overall, have been appropriated by fashion, turning them into a commodity.
Overall, Hong and Lindbald expressed how Rosenberg allowed them along with their fellow students to see how the witch has become a figure for women to take back their power.
Design Misfits allows students to look at the nonconventional adaptations of design and analyze the methods and creations undergone by other artists and individuals like Rosenberg who are redefining the defined in a new light.