A Plural Pedagogy for Graphic Design History

Revised documentation integrates more women, people of color, and underrepresented stories into the curriculum

Kristen Coogan
Associate Professor
Boston University

Today’s pressing social and political landscape prompts reflection. As people, designers, and educators, how can we actively contribute to the cultivation of more inclusive and balanced cultures? Amidst these circumstances, established historical narratives face renewed scrutiny, challenging their authority and the traditional confines of academic discourse. Nikole Hannah-Jones’ groundbreaking “The 1619 Project” confronts the whiteness of American History. Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” envisions educational spaces where a reimagined teacher-student dynamic invites diverse contributions. This research also recognizes the inherent bias found in any historical discourse built on collective knowledge yet often within a singular perspective. As the demand for a decentralized history grows, the question arises: how do we build a more inclusive design history? At Boston University, Graphic Design History students foster inclusivity through a plural design history pedagogy. Revised slide presentations integrate more women, people of color, and underrepresented stories into the curriculum — enabling students to find more of themselves throughout the narrative. Through interactive lab sessions, students contribute distinct viewpoints informed by supplementary readings, written responses, and collaborative discussions. Culminating in extended essays, students disrupt the Western design canon, spotlighting lesser-known designers and movements. These responses culminate in the “Design History Reader,” where specific texts reveal narratives beyond the established versus marginalized dichotomy. Chapters unveil conceptual ecosystems, emphasizing visual and contextual symmetries bridging dominant and minority narratives. The “Reader” serves as a dynamic starting point, open to interpretation. While not fully representative, it’s an expanding, living archive shaped by collective research.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.2: Annual CAA Conference 2024 (Hybrid) on Thursday, February 15, 2024.

Design Incubation Colloquium 10.2: Annual CAA Conference 2024 (Hybrid)

Presentations and discussion in Research and Scholarship in Communication Design at the 112th Annual CAA Conference 2024

Recent research in Communication Design. Presentations of unique, significant creative work, design education, practice of design, case studies, contemporary practice, new technologies, methods, and design research. A moderated discussion will follow the series of presentations.

The colloquium session is open to all conference attendees.

Design Incubation Colloquium 10.2: Annual CAA Conference 2024
Thursday, February 15, 2024
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM
Hilton Chicago – 8th Floor – Lake Michigan (Hybrid)


Camila Afanador-Llach
Florida Atlantic University

Heather Snyder Quinn
DePaul University


Jessica Barness
Kent State University

Liz DeLuna
St John’s University

Dan Wong
New York City College of Technology, CUNY


A Plural Pedagogy for Graphic Design History
Kristen Coogan
Associate Professor
Boston University

Design Is Not Neutral
Grace Hamilton
Assistant Professor
Baruch College
City University New York

From Bricks to Pixels: The Evolution of Banna’i Kufic
Sajad Amini
Assistant Professor
DePaul University

Convergence of Science and Art to Support Climate Resilience in Central American Smallholder Communities
Qiuwen Li
Assistant Professor
Santa Clara University

Sara Wheeler
Undergraduate Student
Santa Clara University

Designing Dialogue: Leveraging Technology for Cultivating Inclusion and Belonging in Classroom Critique
Jenny Kowalski
Assistant Professor
Lehigh University

Abby Guido
Associate Professor
Temple University

Assessing Student Learning Outcomes in an Interdisciplinary, Experiential Course
Denise Anderson
Assistant Professor
Kean University

Analyzing Local Graphic Design History: A Pedagogical Approach
Christina Singer
Assistant Professor
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Uncanny Ways of Seeing: Engaging AI in Design Practice and Pedagogy
Drew Sisk
Assistant Professor
Clemson University

Designing Your Research Agenda (DYRA) 3.1

Design scholars and researchers discuss various aspects of their research agendas

Friday, November 17, 2023
12pm Eastern / 11am Central
Virtual Event

Designing Your Research Agenda is a panel discussion and open forum for design scholars and researchers to discuss various aspects of their research agendas. We aim to open a dialog regarding multiple challenges of discovering one’s design research inquiry. Designing Your Research Agenda is an ongoing design research event series.

  • Ayako Maruyama (RISD)
  • Nate Matteson  (DePaul University)
  • Johanna Mehl (TU Dresden)

Some of the questions we will discuss with panelists include:

  • How did you determine your research agenda (high-level timeline of your career/trajectory)
  • How do you define research and why do you think it matters/for society, the field, and yourself?
  • How do your department and institution define and support the work you do?
  • How would you describe/categorize your department and institution?
  • If you were going to position your work within a category, would you say your research addresses: design theory, design history, design practice, design research (traditional graphic design, speculative design, UXUI, typography, AR, VR, creative computing, design solutions, etc.), design pedagogy, or something else?
  • What barriers (if any) exist at your institution or in the field for creating and disseminating your research?


Jessica Barness
Kent State University

Heather Snyder Quinn
DePaul University


Ayako Maruyama
Rhode Island School of Design

Ayako Maruyama (she/her) is a Filipina-Japanese designer, educator, and illustrator whose practice revolves around intentional collaboration, reflection, collective recovery, maintenance, and repair within the design domain. Working with organizers, artists, designers, students, and planners, Ayako’s involvement with the Design Studio for Social Intervention commenced in 2012. Notably, she recently co-authored and co-illustrated the published book, “Ideas Arrangements Effects: Systems Design and Social Justice.”

Ayako and her team at the Design Studio for Social Intervention focus on creating public engagement strategies that prioritize community development without displacement, along with reimagining public spaces at the Design Gym. With a rich background, Ayako has conducted numerous zine workshops, contributed as a faculty member at Boston University’s City Planning and Urban Affairs program since 2013, and initiated the annual Experience of Public Engagement studio at RISD in 2017.

Having served as an Urbanist in Residence and currently being part of the Collective Recovery Team at the University of Orange, Ayako holds a position as a Board Member at the institution. Additionally, she serves as an Assistant Professor in the Industrial Design department at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she imparts knowledge through teaching graduate thesis studio, foundational, and advanced design studios.

Nate Matteson 
DePaul University

Nathan Matteson is an Associate professor at DePaul University’s School of Design; a co-director of DePaul’s ‘Scandinavia: design, landscape, and society’ study abroad program; a researcher with the Center for robust decision-making in climate and energy policy at the University of Chicago; and a principal and designer at Obstructures. He is a ruthlessly collaborative designer whose work merrily ignores the perceived boundaries among disciplines, and is currently engaged with dead Swedish architects, guitars, the US energy sector, obstacles, and objects in the distance. His practice situates itself at an intersection amongst intersections, dead ends, superhighways, and goat paths, wringing its metaphorical hands over the relationships among computation, intention, materiality, and immateriality.

Johanna Mehl
TU Dresden

Johanna Mehl (she/her) is a designer, scholar, and educator interested in the politics and relations that take shape through and around design practices. She holds a B.A. in Communication Design and an M.A. in Art and Design Studies. Besides her artistic and curatorial practice, she has taught in the fields of digital media, culture studies, and design theory at different design schools across Europe. She is an editorial board member of the Design+Posthumanism Network and part of the research group Against Catastrophe. She holds research fellowship at TU Dresden where she is a  PhD candidate at the Chair for Digital Cultures. Her dissertation is about design responses to the climate crisis and stems from critiques of design that acknowledge its entanglements not only with the material realities, but also the geopolitical, psychological, and social conditions of climate change.


Sustainable Design Pedagogy: A Fifteen-Week Case Study of Sustainable and Climate Design Methodology and Outcomes

A look at foundational systems thinking.

Maria Smith Bohannon
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

Graphic design as a profession often perpetuates rampant consumerism through the art of persuasion, which is directly at odds with working toward sustainable and ecological discourse. To explore the possibilities of sustainable capitalism and foundational sustainable and environmental design themes, I developed a special topics course to understand and investigate the designer’s role as a climate design activist and sustainable designer. The emphasis of this course will focus on sustainable design thinking, praxis, and ideation with the investigation of green or recycled materials as part of the prototyping process—both print and digital—all in the pursuit of reimagined design futures. 

 This course study will look at foundational systems thinking from environmental design pioneers, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and how designers can successfully implement sustainable methodologies and utilize environmentally friendly materials to craft sustainable solutions today. By identifying and framing complex problems plaguing the world, we can examine the possibilities and challenges in addressing these issues broadly or within local communities. 

As sustainability and eco-friendly solutions are imperative for future generations’ ability to prosper, sustainable pedagogy must become foundational in graphic design education. By adopting sustainable design pedagogies, educators provide future designers with the tools—and understanding of sustainable design history, process, methodologies, and materials—to question capitalist tendencies and develop sustainable solutions.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

The Limits of Control: Nonhierarchical Modes of Making, Decentering the Designer

Exploring the creative networks between graphic designers and their collaborators — human and non-human.

Christopher Swift
Assistant Professor
Binghamton University

“The Limits of Control” is a body of work exploring the creative networks between graphic designers and their collaborators — human and non-human. Inspired by the work and writing of James Bridle, John Cage and Bruno Latour the project examines how the interplay of control and trust in a designer’s relationship with their network of tools (creative, cultural, technological) can be attended to, challenged, and reimagined allows us to break free of the traditional modes and methodologies and begin to explore new possibilities and new ways of seeing and being as graphic designers.

The black boxes which envelop our tools obscure the complexity and scale of the collaborative space we work in. This work makes the invisible visible and removes the designer from their imagined directive podium to be one among many in a creative and collaborative network of active participants full of agency and potential.

Showcasing case studies that demonstrate the tools of a creative network foregrounds their active participation in co-creation. Through coding in various languages new digital tools are created in which the agency of the tool itself is highlighted. These new tools undertake an intentionally nonhierarchical mode of making, decentering the designer’s role. Each study pushes the designer further away from a mode of control with the intent of asking—if there is collaborative care, respect, and trust in the creative design process then what new solutions, what new insights, what new ways of thinking and being may we discover when we look around from our new perspective.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

Graphic Design and Authority: How the Design of Documents and Signage Creates, Endorses, and Authenticates Power Structures

Visual authority can be used to validate any endeavor.

Claire Bula
Adjunct Professor
Boston University

The visual design of all legal and political documents, such as deeds, permits, identification & maps, employ a specific visual language enhancing their power. Design choices relating to layout, typefaces, symbols, embellishments, impressions, white space, signatures/certifications, and materials amalgamate to display power purely through visual appearance.

Because the visual design of a document can confer authority regardless of authenticity, It is important to analyze how visual appearance alone can be interpreted. A visual language of power exists and can instill feelings of hesitation, dominance, or fear leading individuals into subservience or subordination. Visual authority can be employed by true legal sources of power or used as a device to deceive or invalidly show power. Visual authority can be used to validate any endeavor, whether its intent is beneficial and egalitarian or manipulative and oppressive. Designers should be aware of how the use of visually authoritative means have been used throughout history to control, intimidate, and outright steal basic human rights and dignities.

Through multidisciplinary research across history, philosophy, political science, and sociology, I studied the means by which power and authority have been constructed in the United States. In addition, reading design texts and conducting visual surveys of documents employing elements of visual authority led to the creation of a diagram of design elements that create the library for visual language of authority.

In response, I authored a visual essay, designed a poster illustrating visual authority’s form language via personal documents, and printed risograph signage subverting authoritative signage through type and color. This body of work serves to document my research and surfaces questions about how visual authority was developed and how it is employed today.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

Chicano Independent Publication Masthead Design

Made during research visits at university libraries in Texas and California, hubs of the Chicano movement.

Joshua Duttweiler
Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Alexandria Victoria Canchola
Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

We demonstrate how the design of Chicano independent publication mastheads from the 1960’s and 1970’s in the United States used the visual language of the Chicano community to engage directly with their audience. In publication design, mastheads serve as the reader’s first indication as to a publication’s purpose and credibility. Our analysis of these independent publications is based on observations made during research visits at university libraries in Texas and California, hubs of the Chicano movement. Based on our research, the mastheads used typography, icons, and organization symbols to attract readers in service to the publication’s goals of raising awareness on local issues such as labor inequality and racial violence. The efforts made by these publications not only mobilized their audience to fight for social justice but utilized visual means as a way of uniting their readers toward a cause.

These Chicano publications, not typically referenced in the traditional white graphic design canon, provide an opportunity to learn from past designers in a parallel time of societal unrest and analyze their successful methods of advocacy and activism. The political climate of the time cultivated diverse printing practitioners; far different than the editorial staffs we see today. Activists, many without formal design training, worked to combine text and images into design that would speak to their audience. By observing the evolution of masthead design throughout the Chicano movement we can observe the progress of the publication designers’ skill as they sought to increase their audience and ability to communicate.

By understanding the role and unity of the visual language of independent Chicano newspapers, we encourage designers, historians, and students to further investigate the design semiotics of community-focused publications both within its historical context and contemporary practice.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design: A Diachronic Investigation Into the Word ‘Design’

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Nathan Matteson
Associate Professor
DePaul University

This project looks at the changes in the meaning of the word ‘design’ throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. ‘Design’ and its cultural impact have changed significantly between the advent of typographic printing and the 21st century. Understanding these transitions is compelling in its own right, and may allow us to anticipate future developments.

This investigation relies on ‘word embedding’, which has become widespread in the field of natural language processing. Word embeddings convert texts into quantities with each word represented by a multidimensional vector of real numbers. They have seen use in a range of applications including sentiment analysis, language translation, and, happily, investigating semantic change of words over time.

A comparison of the changes among the semantic neighbors of ‘design’—the words that are ‘close’ to design in this multi-dimensional vector space—provides insight into what we mean when we say ‘design’. Early results suggest that two significant shifts have occurred.

  • During the late 19th century, design’s semantic neighborhood moved away from words like ‘plan’, ‘arrangement’, and ‘interpretation’ towards ‘mechanism’, ‘device’, and ‘apparatus’.
  • The neighborhood was further displaced during the mid-20th century by the likes of ‘model’, ‘construct’, and ‘prototype’.

What might be behind these supposed changes in meaning? Perhaps it suggests that design reinvents itself in response to disruptive technological changes, if one assumes these time periods correspond, respectively, to the industrial revolution and the nascent digital age. More investigation is required—performing analyses over other words and corpora—before any useful conclusions can be drawn.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

Radical Characters: Studying Graphic Design and Typography through Chinese Characters (Hanzi)

The relationship between design and culture in the Chinese and Chinese American community

Mary Y Yang
Assistant Professor
Boston University

Radical Characters is a study group and curatorial project that explores the relationship between design and culture in the Chinese and Chinese American community. Each project seeks to decentralize the design canon and to co-build history and community by initiating dialogues through educational experiences. Looking beyond Western design pedagogy, Radical Characters studies Hanzi as a point of inquiry to learn, innovate, and study graphic design from a non-linear approach. Radical Characters looks to projects such as Decolonising Design and the People’s Graphic Design Archive that model methods for challenging practice, pedagogy, and contributions to the design field. The first project was “Radical Return,” an exhibition that draws inspiration from the Chinese character 回 hui, which means to return, to turn around, to circle or to reply. An international call for submissions prompted participants to use 回 as a grid—visually and conceptually—to consider a path they seek to retrace as Chinese or Chinese American designers. Thirty-six Chinese and Chinese American artists and graphic designers were selected to exhibit their graphic work simultaneously at Boston University Art Galleries and IS A GALLERY. The designers’ work accompanied with statements and additional commissioned essays were published in a bilingual catalog. The exhibition opened up a collective space for designers to explore the concept of return through language, typography, cultural traditions, identity, and design history. Radical Characters acknowledges that the works by no means form a complete picture of the multifaceted and complex narratives experienced by Chinese and Chinese American designers, but rather shape an in-progress collection site for building knowledge through the exchange of graphic design and culture. The exhibition presents a framework for a design curatorial process that instigates cultural dialogue among the participants and offers alternative ways for exhibition-making and the exhibition design process.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

Slowing Production, Increasing Socio-Political Context: Beyond “Spreading Awareness” in the Design Classroom

A feminist base motivates us to engage questions around power relations, knowledge production, and systems of violence

Becky Nasadowski
Assistant Professor
University of Tennessee at Chattanoo

In recent years, many universities have embraced “diversity” with oblique statements of support. Related, design educators have rightfully sought strategies for inclusive pedagogy, increasing representation and working toward ensuring the classroom is comfortable. But inclusive is not synonymous with anti-racist, which requires antagonism and a reckoning with the pervasive inequities baked into our different fields and methods, the university, and our social relationships and histories.

In this presentation, I will provide an overview of my studio-seminar course Politics and Ethics of Design, where a feminist base motivates us to engage questions around power relations, knowledge production, and systems of violence. A substantial reading list frames sustained conversations on the politics of race, class, and gender as it relates to the field of design, creating a critical foundation for design practice. Select topics include data feminism and counter cartography, the designer’s role in constructing notions of citizenship, the limits of empathy in design thinking, and the neoliberal entanglement of work and passion. 

By providing an anchor through reading and conversation, I ask design students to consider in their studio practice urgent questions: How do we respond to historical omissions? How do we interface with social movements? How do we act with an awareness of history that complicates liberal concepts of empathy as paramount? If we want students to engage power and sincerely explore what an anti-racist practice and education look like, then we need to fully engage in how design has traditionally played—and continues to play—a role in bolstering social inequity.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.