Training Students to Critically Assess a Design Rhetoric


Design rhetoric, cool, critical, design, MoMA


Young design students typically lack a depth of understanding when discussing design. Generally they limit themselves to a collection of style platitudes that express how the product makes them feel, such as “that’s so cool.” This paper proposes a method of teaching students how to critically assess the rhetorical, or persuasive, nature of design and compose a meaningful, written narrative about it. Students who embrace this method will consistently and meaningfully move beyond style platitudes when discussing design. They will begin to communicate the design’s rhetoric. The assessment method is framed by the product design selection criteria for an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which was directed by Paola Antonelli during the winter of 2007/8. The selection criteria are composed of the following: 1- Form and Meaning, 2- Function and Meaning, 3- Innovation, 4- Cultural Impact, 5- Process, 6- Necessity. Using examples provided by the MoMA exhibit and from Antonelli’s book Humble Masterpieces, students research, contemplate, discuss, analyze and write about how designs communicate. This paper will deconstruct and discuss MoMA’s six design selection criteria. It will show how to use Antonelli’s framework to help students to intelligently discuss design. It will provide examples of both MoMA and student writing to demonstrate how the framework is utilized.

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Conference Paper

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Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor