There are two ways of understanding the notion of play: playing cards, dominos, checkers; or the play of a mechanical part when it is loose in its housing. I think, in fact, that the second is the angle from which we should envision play today. Play is not something that brings pleasure; on the contrary, it expresses a shift in reality, an unaccustomed mobility with respect to reality. To play today, in a certain sense, means to choose between two realities.
Virilio, Paul and Jerome Sans (Interviewer).”Game of Love and Chance: a Discussion with Paul Virilio.” in: Watson Institute. No Date.

In this experimental typographic studio, we will investigate graphic design as an iterative practice of game-playing, one which variously requires control and demands submission, in different degrees and sometimes at the same time.

Design, at its highest level, can consist in the specification of rules for the production of things, in addition to the production of the things themselves. We will practice from both positions — rule-maker and rule-follower — in order to investigate graphic design as a procedural and conceptual activity: as the formulation, interpretation, and execution of rules for production. And — as a form of practice that might thereby open political questions about control and freedom.

In a series of short workshops, we will play games with partners to edit, design, and produce an archive of printed matter. We will write and execute rules that provide instruction in (1) how to find, generate, and edit content, (2) how to give form to this content, and (3) how to produce and print it. We won’t know the outcome of each workshop until the rules are executed, but that’s the idea. We are producing programs, but for humans not computers, so the running of the program will be harder to predict — and more interesting!

Opening Lecture Notes

Rule making and following is inherent to all design work.
Design produces instructions for others to execute — the way printing once was done: the designer gives instructions to the printer.

It must be clearly realized that designers work and communicate indirectly, and their creative work finally takes the form of instructions to contractors, manufacturers and other executants … The instructions may include written specifications, reports, and other documents, detailed working drawings, scale models, and sometimes prototypes in full size. Since this is as far as the designer goes in direct production (strictly what he makes are visual analogues), it is necessary that the instructions are very clear, complete, and in other ways acceptable to those who must work from them.
What is a Designer? Norman Potter

Also, identity work and standards manuals.

Paul Rand, IBM Sign Standards Manual
Paul Rand, IBM Sign Standards Manual

All your work in school is basically structured as rules you interpret and follow, tho assignments may not be explicitly formulated as such.
In this class we’ll turn the tables, so that you write the rules for the project execution.

Moholy-nagy anecdote:

In 1922 I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory’s color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone, the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper divided in to squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence.)

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Telephone Picture
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Telephone Picture

Automation, industrialization of art, — taking subjectivity out of the creation equation.

For the 1962 show, New Paintings of Common Objects,

Edward Rusha designed the poster by calling up a commercial printer who made posters for concerts and boxing matches. Ruscha dictated all the copy over the phone, and his only directions on the type and style were to ‘make it loud!’ The poster came back with bold red and black type on a bright yellow background. Our limited budget dictated the portfolio and poster, though the off-the-shelf look fit right in with the show’s aesthetics.

New Paintings of Common Objects
New Paintings of Common Objects

This is about control and participation.
A central question to design practice, with many parallels in worlds outside design is:
To what degree are we free, and to what degree are we constrained in our creative work?
Can we follow the rules and still find a way to do something new/unique?
A contradiction: autonomy and engagement; automation and generation.
What sort of freedom is possible in constraint? One approach to this question might be to sketch all the possibilities of freedom and movement that exist within the restrictions that are given.
In this studio we are less interested in “expression” than in articulating and opening the problem — being able to clearly and completely describe a design problem.

We’ll think about indeterminacy and interpretation: about how as a rule-maker you can open a space for another’s agency, and how, as a rule-follower, you can develop, under constraints, your own agency.

The ideas we’ll be working with in the class have resonances in a variety of discourses and practices. Our experiments will be informed by readings in ’60s and ’70s conceptual art, typographic modernism, cybernetics, and forms of procedural rule-bound writing and art-making: oulipo, dogma, conceptual writing.

The paradigm of computation as it is installed in human subjects: so-called human intelligence tasks (HITs).
Human computation: simple repetitive tasks that can’t be automated, done by computer, e.g. image tagging.
Amazon Mechanical Turk is the marketplace for this sort of work.

The name Mechanical Turk comes from “The Turk”, a chess-playing automaton of the 18th century, which was made by Wolfgang von Kempelen. It toured Europe, beating the likes ofNapoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. It was later revealed that this “machine” was not an automaton at all, but was in fact a chess master hidden in a special compartment controlling its operations. Likewise, the Mechanical Turk web service allows humans to help the machines of today perform tasks for which they are not suited.

A copper engraving of the Turk, showing the open cabinets and working parts.
A copper engraving of the Turk, showing the open cabinets and working parts.

This is a new form of labor in the world. Micro-work. Microtasking is the process of splitting a job into its component microwork and distributing this work over the Internet.

“Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart”


“Ten Thousand Cents” is a digital artwork that creates a representation of a $100 bill. Using a custom drawing tool, thousands of individuals working in isolation from one another painted a tiny part of the bill without knowledge of the overall task. Workers were paid one cent each via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The total labor cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the reproductions available for purchase (to charity) are all $100. The work is presented as a video piece with all 10,000 parts being drawn simultaneously. The project explores the circumstances we live in, a new and uncharted combination of digital labor markets, “crowdsourcing,” “virtual economies,” and digital reproduction.

Conceptual art
Texts/scores which demand its reader complete them.
Scripts and scores which can stand on their own, apart from their executions.
This practice comes out of music, and the relation of a score to a performance.
John Cage: 4’33: three parts, of different durations, during which the performer is instructed to remain silent

In 1962, Cage wrote 0′00″, which is also referred to as 4′33″ No. 2. The directions originally consisted of one sentence: “In a situation provided with maximum amplification, perform a disciplined action.” At the first performance Cage had to write that sentence.

4'33" score
4’33” score

La Monte Young: “draw a straight line and follow it.”
George Brecht, event scores.
In conceptual art, the script, score, or instruction is as important as the thing it produces, more important even.
The interest of this idea has something to do with the variability of social actions and possibilities which might follow from a particular script.

Yoko Ono, Snow Piece
Yoko Ono, Snow Piece

Constrained writing

Perec’s novel La disparition, translated into English by Gilbert Adair and published under the title A Void, is a 300-page novel written without the letter “e,” an example of a lipogram. The English translation, A Void, is also a lipogram. The novel is remarkable not only for the absence of “e,” but it is a mystery in which the absence of that letter is a central theme.

Draft of Alphabets, George Perec
Draft of Alphabets, George Perec

A lipogram (from Ancient Greek: λειπογράμματος, leipográmmatos, “leaving out a letter”) is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting in writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided—usually a common vowel, and frequently E, the most common letter in the English language. Larousse defines a lipogram as a “literary work in which one compels oneself strictly to exclude one or several letters of the alphabet.” Extended Ancient Greek texts avoiding the letter sigma are the earliest examples of lipograms.

Design is also about documentation: about materializing, representing, documenting what already has happened.
We’re concerned with both temporal trajectories in this class: programs for actions and the documentation of those actions.
Graphic design, as Will Holder provisionally defined it: specification AND documentation.
— also the constitutive discourses of a format, software, etc.

Technical drawing of a machine tool
Technical drawing of a machine tool