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Democracy by Design

Democracy by Design


Studio Art and Global Studies


Professor Kristin Martin and Professor John Williams

Program Summary

There are natural connections between politics and graphic design. The powerful interactions between these two disciplines can go horribly wrong (think of the Nazis and their swastika in the 1930s and ‘40s), move us in the direction of increased civil rights (think of the I AM A MAN posters worn at the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike in 1968), or influence daily behavior (Smokey the Bear and “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”, or anti-littering with “Keep America Beautiful”).                    

The Democracy by Design FYE will familiarize students with the principles of democracy and the principles of design as we explore questions of power, ethics, and media literacy that arise for us as creators and citizens. We expect to plan some pretty exciting field trips, which could include a visit to STL Design Week (early October), The Design Museum of Chicago, local county board meetings, and/or other major election events that may arise during the semester.                    
Since 2024 is an election year, one core activity will be Principia’s biennial “Election Night Broadcast,” in which political science and media and digital journalism classes join to produce and present live election night coverage of the 2024 presidential, congressional, and state elections over Principia’s global YouTube channel. Each student will follow the election process, including how candidates are “marketed” to voters, in a state of their choice. We’ll try to predict election outcomes and critique the use of design principles in presenting candidates and their positions. 

This course is an introduction to the world of graphic design and its practical application. Students interested in learning how to read the language of images, symbols and art and how to create and work with the language of art and design should take this class. Students will learn skills in working with the professional tools of graphic design, learn the process of design, and apply these skills on a daily basis to a wide range of projects. All projects are designed to develop readily usable skills to be used outside of this class.

For the Democracy by Design FYE version of this class, which is adapted from the Graphic Design I course offered generally, there will be a special focus on the social and political uses of graphic design.

POLS 120: American Government and Politics (3 SH, GESS)
The United States and its government structure are not accidents nor acts of God.  They are the intentional creation of people (mostly English, white, male, educated, landed or of wealth, Christian), based on theories of the purpose and structure of government (proposed by mostly European, white, male, educated, though not necessarily wealthy or Christian). 

The design of the government—separation of powers into branches, checks and balances among the branches, federalism with multiple tiers of government, and concept of rule of law and protection of individual rights—was debated, crafted, and ratified.  For almost 225 years, we have been trying to figure out what the design looks like in actual practice. Some of our institutions, such as the two party-system, were not intentional. They were not the result of design.

The foundations of our government and our constitutional principles are under increasing stress. Are they resilient?  Will they survive? Should our government be replaced?  How?  Should we move from a notion of democracy to a different form of government? 

American Government and Politics is the study of the design and operation of the American government. It is valid to question the design, its purpose, and its effectiveness, but only after you understand the design, the purpose, and its operation (or failure to operate). You should leave this course with an understanding of America’s design-purpose-operation, and have a nuanced opinion of its strengths, weaknesses, and future.

We will call upon the experience of other nations—as represented among the students—and our growing understanding of the concepts of design to help us develop our critical skills of observation, reason, and communication. One of highlights of the Fall 2024 course will be participation in analysis and live reporting of the 2024 Presidential, Congressional, and local elections on November 5. While much of the design of America is conceptual and abstract, we will call upon actual and tangible examples—field trips, guest speakers, practical exercises and experiences, analysis of speeches and campaign materials.     

GEN 101 DD: ILC Democracy by Design (3SH)
In GEN 101, the Integrated Learning Course (ILC), we will use the content from ARTS 170: Graphic Design I and POLS 120: American Government and Politics to develop college-level research skills, strengthen your writing and reading habits, and address general transition-to-college issues. Readings will be assigned and used to supplement the content from the other courses.