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Cooper Union
Theory & Practice

Each semester, Cooper Union awards one practicing designer the Frank Stanton Chair in Graphic Design teaching position. As the Fall 2018 recipient of this honor, I taught a course on ethics in design. This is a lightly condensed version of the syllabus I wrote.


This advanced course in design is a blend of conversation and making. The impact of design in society is prevalent now more than ever. This means that we, as people who put out work that influences culture, need to understand the ethical responsibility we have to those living in society. What are the stories that you, as a designer, want to tell? Why should people listen to them? How will listening impact their lives? What are the tools that you, as a designer, want to create? Why do you think they’ll work? How will you know for certain?


The primary objective of this course is for you, the designer, to learn how to help people even more than you already know how. We will accomplish this together through reading theory, having group discussions, making work, and talking about that work. Students are expected to leave this course more prepared to tackle the challenging problems that society has better than when they started.


Each class will start off with a discussion about an assigned reading. Our engaging conversation will help examine the text. There will be a blend of reading from sociology to design including blog posts, articles, and columns. From there, use of class time will range from lecture, work time, check-in, and critique.

Project 1: Blindspot: Zine

A blindspot is an area in which a person’s view is obstructed. The first project in this class will be to make a zine about a time where you were misrepresented or left out in a product or story. What was the story or product? Who made it? Why is it a problem that they left you out or misrepresented you? Do you think they are aware of the problem? How did it make you feel? How did it impact your life?

Project 2: Find + Fix

There are ethical problems within stories and products all around us. For the second project, students will identify a large ethical problem within a story or product and create a solution for it. You’ll start, with the help of your instructor, by writing a press release announcing the problem and solution. From there, students will do research on the product and the people who use it, wireframe, and build lo- and hi-fi prototypes. The goal isn’t to redesign an experience. Rather, it’s to find the right problems to fix. There will be regular check-ins.

Project 3: What Matters Most?

It’s time to solve an ethical problem. For the third project, students will pick a problem that you are invested in solving. Remember how, in 2014, Flint, Michigan had lead in the water and was undrinkable? The problem is still there. How can a story or product help those citizens? What about healthcare? Or the environment? Students are encouraged to think big. Together, with your instructor, we’ll walk through how to break big ideas down into small and manageable goals. We’ll follow the same process as the second project: a press release, research, wireframe, lo- and hi-fi prototype. There will be regular check-ins.

Project 4: Journal: Ongoing

In this course, we are going to tackle challenging problems. The work that students will do is bound to bring up some frustration emotions. It is paramount, as a designer and human being, that you are taking care of yourself. On the second week of class I’ll ask that everyone show me they have a journal to write your thoughts in. I will never read your journal. It is only for you. I greatly encourage you to write in it as often as you need to.

Student Work


Jeehye Yim

Blue Cycle: A Brand New Recycling System
Press Release  •  Research
Lo-fi •  Hi-fi

Elvin Hu

Running App
Press Release  • Lo-fi
Hi-fi Watch, Armband, and Mobile

Jeehye Yim

A new system for emoji to solve discrimination issues
Press Release  •  Research
Lo-fi 1 & 2 •  Hi-fi Emoji Menu, Keyboard Display, Emoji Size, Favorites, Delete

Elvin Hu

Balanced digital news