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Fall 2021 ︎︎︎ SUNY Purchase ︎︎︎ (DES4100) Community Design

What is Community?


First off, everyone in class stated they are cool with talking about this content, but I am still placing a content warning here as some of this content is indeed pretty heavy.

My goal here is not (necessarily) to talk about how is school or this class like a cult. I find these kinds of groups interesting because they speak to how a group that might appear initially to be beneficial to certain people could become toxic or dangerous which is kind of a macrocosm for group dynamics; that is to say, an unhealthy group dynamic is not necessarily a “cult” nor does trending towards one mean you are “in a cult.”

I’m also interested in the cultural forces that influence the growth of cults. Is a given cult perceived as more “legitimate” because it has the signifiers of a religion? How have notions of “truth” changed in the 20th century such that people might question their assumptions and beliefs enough to seek out a group similar to the ones below? 

Required Viewings

Japan's Strange and Deadly Insurrectionist Cult (1995)︎ Aum Shinrikyo is a super interesting cult in that they were able to attract engineers and that, before they gained some of their notoriety they were more embedded into Japanese culture, even having computer games and animes produced about them. I’m not totally clear on their relationship to Japanese culture in a way that I could vividly recreate it for you, but still of note.

Rajneeshpuram | Down the Rabbit Hole (2018)︎ I quite like Down the Rabbit Hole, particularly his older work covering strange internet characters which I think he’s trying to get away from. That being said, be warned if you watch his channels as he covers some intense stuff. You’re welcome to watch Wild, Wild, Country if you want, but this is freely available and a little bit more compact.

Heaven's Gate | Full UFO Cult Documentary︎
Not sure what year this is from. I quite like these generic History Channel-type videos but your mileage may vary. This also contains a segment on another UFO-related group called the Unarians; which you are welcome to watch but we don’t need to focus on. There is a docuseries on HBO Max about Heaven’s gate, but again, requires a bit more of a time investment.

Contextualizing Materials

Here are some more generic, non-required contextualizing videos that may help you frame your thoughts for our discussions. 

Questions to think about

    • How are the above cults featured in each video different and how are they the same?
    • How did the groups start as aspirational or positive in some way?
    • Did the groups “target” a group of people who might be susceptible to being in a cult?
    • How did the cult regulate people’s behavior? How did they keep people from leaving, if at all?
    • What other cultural factors might have been at play to make the cults “succesful” in their aims?

Related Project

Related to this viewing, each group will produce ephemera related to an existing cult or one of your own design. This is meant as a teambuilding exercise, as well as a way to help contextualize your reactions to the videos for discussion.


    • A teambuilding exercise for the new teams
    • An opportunity to produce an aesthetic object without the context of client-based work.


You must produce (at least) one of the following that explains, advertises or attracts people to a “cult” of your own design or one that exists or has existed before. Note that this material may be critical of a given cult (ie something produced to warn people of a given group) it does not need to be laudatory.
    • A booklet that is (at least) 12 pages long 
      (dimensions at least half letter)
    • (At least) 2 pamphlet/brochures
      (dimensions at least 11in. by 17in.)
    • A series of (at least) 5 flyers or posters
      (dimensions at least 8.5 by 11in.)
    • A video advertisement 
      (dimensions 1920px by 1080px, at least 45 seconds in length)
    • Any combination of the above. If you have another idea for a form of your groups’ piece; I’m probably open to it but let’s please talk about it.

Final Submission

    • A visual record of your final piece; this will vary based on the medium(s) chosen. If you’re printing stuff please print an extra copy and if it is an issue of printer points please let me know.
    • A folder containing all sketches and early iterations
    • A folder for each person in the group containing notes on the viewings.

No Shuriken Mode Challenges

(Please note that, doing these do not guarantee a better grade or extra credit by any fixed or demonstrable amount, but if you’re doing or approaching these things, you’re probably doing well. The point is that, like not using shurikens in Shadow Dancer, it is more difficult, and increases your proximity to the material. All this being said don’t hurt  yourself and consider your other assignments and mental and physical health. Additionally, if you are not feeling challenged by the class or an assignment, and these suggestions are not sufficient for you, please le me know.)
    • Come to class during one of the critique days “as” a given cult.
    • Have people in your group or from the class hand out materials on campus or place them throughout campus (obviously think about how you do this and assume your own liability for any risk you take on)
    • Create a longer 10 - 15min. video as if the group already exists and various people are interviewed as part of it.

Grading Rubric

  • 33.3% ︎︎︎Concept/Idea

  • This is the strength of the thing your making and how you explain or “sell” it through our conversations and through your designing of graphics.
  • 33.3% ︎︎︎Craft/Execution

  • This applies to both digital and physical attention to detail.
  • 33.3% ︎︎︎Implicit/Explicit Teamwork

    This will usually be evident by who is talking or not talking in a given context, who appears to be doing the brunt of the labor, but if you’re worried about this feel free to catalogue your individual contributions.

Relevant Dates

10/27/2021 ︎︎︎ Introduction 
11/03/2021 ︎︎︎ Project Check-in
11/10/2021 ︎︎︎ Material due
11/10/2021 ︎︎︎ Show and Tell, pt.1
11/17/2021︎︎︎ Show and Tell, pt.2

11/17/2021︎︎︎ Video Discussions

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