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Prompt Book Assignments

08.26.14

Rob Walker | Essays

Assignments for Yourself



It took me a long time — well past my student years, for sure — to appreciate the possibilities of the assignment, as a form. More recently I’ve expressed my enthusiasm for creative and useful assignments here, inspired by the book Draw It With Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Assignment.

So I could not have been more intrigued to learn of Tim Belonax’s recent project, The Reward Is In The Process: Optional Class Assignments for the Design-Minded . It’s a book — described as “a tool for expanded self-education through process-based assignments” — inspired by John Baldessari’s brilliant and well-known “Class Assignments: Optional.”

(Belonax's book is currently available via Blurb; my copy, pictured here, was part of a somewhat fancier limited edition that I bought through his Etsy store. That version sold out before I had time to write this. But it's the ideas this project represents that I am endorsing; I'm quite sure they hold up in the Blurb form-factor.)





Baldessari’s list, if you’ve never seen it, is delightful and amazing, and at least potentially useful — a dazzling thought exercise in thought exercises, it dares you to move beyond appreciating the provocations and really acting on (at least a few) of its 109 suggestions. Even if you don’t, the thought exercising alone will do you good.

At least that’s how I read it. And Belonax, a very smart and interesting designer based in San Francisco (@timbelonax), evidently concluded that a similar list of assignment-prompts could be made for designers.

The result is this book, which presents 109 assignments, each meant to serve as “a point on a longer continuum of education, taken on by the designer.” A few examples I like, in no particular order:

·      Give a fifteen minute presentation about a designer or a piece of design that you hate. Use proper research citations.


·      Employ a mop in the creation of a typeface.

·      Find your nearest sign painter and interview him/her.

·      Go to a town you are unfamiliar with and map it. Give your map to a stranger.

·      Redesign a piece of junk mail. Mail it back to the sender. Show the original and your redesign side-by-side along with your thoughts on the redesign.

·      Make something backwards.

·      Using the Apple store as your studio, create a piece of design during one visit.

·      Call ten people and tell them one thing you appreciate about them.

·      Attend a city council meeting in your city.

·      Start something old.

And so on. Here's a fast video flip-through posted on Instagram:



The point is to push creative thinking outside of workaday (client- and market-driven) constraints and demands; not just finding new solutions, but inventing new problems to solve.

As the book asks: “How else will designers find something new if they don’t go beyond what is asked?”

Indeed. How will any of us?

Posted in: Books, Design Practice, Education







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This article contains affiliate links for books we think your family will love!

From wordless books to favorite novels, your kids’ reading can provide a springboard to book-themed writing activities. This week, let them take journaling inspiration from literature with these writing prompts about books.

1. You Have to Read This Book!

Some books are like best pals: we never get tired of spending time with them! Think of such a book—one you love to read again and again. Then, persuade a friend to read this book by making a list of 6-10 reasons why it’s so appealing.

2. No Words

Find a wordless book—one that has mostly pictures and no (or very few) words—and write a story to go along with each page in the book. It will help to ask yourself what is happening in the picture, how each character might feel, and what might happen next. Feel free to give the characters names!


If you have younger siblings, you probably have some wordless books lying around, such as Chalk, Good Night, Gorilla, or The Red Book. If not, visit the library and look for one of the shorter books on this list of 10 wordless books. 

3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In fiction, the protagonist is often called the “good guy,” while the antagonist—the character who opposes the protagonist—is known as the “bad guy.”

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, Aslan is the protagonist and the evil White Witch is the antagonist. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the protagonist, of course, is Alice, who finds herself at odds with the cruel Queen of Hearts.

Choose a protagonist from a favorite book and explain how this character’s behavior and positive character qualities inspire respect or admiration. Then, think of an antagonist (from the same book or a different one) and explain what makes this character unlikable.

4. She’s Got Personality

Have you ever thought about writing a novel? If so, you probably already have ideas about the characters you might include!

Write a paragraph that describes your main character. Include details about this character’s appearance, personality traits, likes or dislikes, and a surprising or interesting fact about his or her background. If you get stuck thinking of words, you can find some ideas here and here.

Did you enjoy these writing ideas? If so, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo Credit: Kozzi