Rethinking Graphic Design Education

Matthew Monk
Academic Dean
Vermont College of Fine Arts

After teaching graphic design for twenty years at a prominent institution for art and design education, I was given an opportunity to build a new graphic design MFA program from scratch in the context of a growing, up-and-coming arts college that is known for its successful student-centered pedagogical model through a unique and effective low-residency format. I led a team of faculty and administrators to build an exceptional and unusual program that is proving in a short amount of time to be a remarkably effective and satisfying educational model for design. In the process of developing the program, we challenged many assumptions about design and education to devise a structure and philosophy unlike any other program I know. This presentation traces the challenges and successes in developing the program, as it outlines the curriculum and pedagogical model, the educational philosophy, program logistics, academic content, assessment, and results of this unique model for teaching and learning.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

The Next Wave in Publication Design

Christie Shin
Assistant Professor
Communication Design, School of Art and Design
Fashion Institute of Technology

In response to the massive growth of media consumption in recent years, “Immersive reading” has become the primary focus of the publishing industry. While traditional reading only involves seeing the page, immersive reading spans the spectrum with a more engaging experience that includes multi-media features. Digital publication created with Digital Publication Suite (DPS) is a content-centric application for touchscreen tablets and other mobile devices. DPS truly creates immersive reading experience by combining sophisticated text with video, audio, animation, and other highly interactive elements.

Christie Shin will introduce a newly developed course, Immersive Publication Design, from the Communication Design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She will explain the pilot projects from the digital design courses at FIT and showcase her recent digital publication for UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). In conclusion, she will present Interdisciplinary Digital Publication with the essential editorial design principles and fundamental differences between traditional print and screen-based publications.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Re-Defining Reading

Laura Franz
Professor, Design Department
Head, Graphic Design Option (Major)
College of Visual and Performing Arts, UMass Dartmouth

For decades, critics have predicted the end of the written word: “No one reads anymore!

No one writes anymore!” Yet from birth certificates to gravestones, from T-shirts to text messaging, the written word—and thus reading—is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

Throughout history, we have used the written word to record and preserve who we are and what we care about: possessions, laws, commitment, ideas, and memories. Words and characters, once impressed in clay, written on papyrus, and printed with ink, are now manifest in pixels of light.

The use of text messaging for casual conversation has exploded, surpassing phone conversation as the communication method of choice—suggesting that our personal connection to reading and writing continues to thrive.

People may not participate in sustained reading the way they used to (or the way we think they used to), but people read. They text, tweet, and post on Facebook and Instagram. They search for things they need or want to know. They get lost in stories.

People read what is important to them. If we define reading only as a sustained and literary activity, if we acknowledge only one kind of reading, then we measure ourselves against a fabricated truth. We ignore the actual activity and exclude people’s needs and desires.

In Re-Defining Reading I illustrate three common approaches to reading; reflect on how re-defining reading has informed how I use and teach traditional typographic theories and practices within the context of web design; and show how a subtle shift—from user to reader—can help us adapt knowledge from the old (print) to serve the new (web).

The truth is there are different ways to read, and they are all valid and important. As designers, we can support them all.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Small Disruptions

Andrew Shea
Adjunct Faculty
Pratt Institute
Parsons, The New School

Designers are eager to find solutions that are economically inclusive, socially progressive, and environmentally sound. And whether they call it social impact design, designing for social change, socially responsible design, or by another name, it usually implies that design makes some kind of impact. The essence of that “impact” is some kind of behavior change.

In my presentation, I will talk about what it means for designers to make an impact, since the influence of design remains difficult to trace and measure.

My presentation will feature research from behavioral psychology, creative placemaking, wayfinding, and user experience that, along with two case studies, will illustrate an evidence-based design approach that can lead to positive behavioral change.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Kanga as a Form of Visual Communication

Ziddi Msangi
Associate Professor
Design Department, College of Visual & Performing Arts
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Founding Faculty, Graphic Design
Vermont College of Fine Arts

Throughout East Africa, but especially in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, women wear wraps called kanga. They contain a central image along with a patterned motif and saying. They range from political messages, proverbs, and religious messages. All ethnic groups seem to embrace the form. In a traditional hierarchical social structure where there are prohibitions against women engaging in gossip, speaking out of turn and shaming, kanga are used as a way of circumventing these restrictions.

This presentation explores the intersection of private and public space these garments inhabit when women wear them and their evolution as a distinct form of visual communication.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall

Mark Addison Smith, Assistant Professor
Electronic Design and Multimedia
The City College of New York

The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall documents my typographic and theoretical process of discovering an instance of homophobic graffiti—gay fagget fucker die you know it’s a truck driver—within a midwestern truck stop men’s bathroom, translating the author’s letterforms into a coded-language system for the targeted queer community, and using my newly designed typography to “talk back” against and eradicate the source hate.

Cross-referencing design theory lenses of Sassure’s semiotics, Dunn’s graphic signal, and Meggs’ metasymbol against queer theory lenses of Kinsey’s bathroom, Foucault’s confession, and Munoz’s disidentification, my role as communication designer existed as analyst and visual-activist. I reappropriated the strokes, angles, and terminals of the graffiti author’s non-repeating 20 letterforms into a complete 52-character uppercase and lowercase alphabet based upon his writing style. Through a process of mirroring and overlay, I arranged these letterforms on top of each other to design a homosexualized alphabet of same-letter ligatures, or, same-sex letters having sex. I returned to the original bathroom stall and deployed my own response, let’s face it we’re all queer (a graffiti battle-cry from the 1970s New York City queer revolution), directly on top of his graffiti—to both reference the source of my redesigned typeface and provide the audience with a translation-key—in an act of eradication and reclamation. Through textual manipulation, I’m hoping to analyze the emotional baggage carried within the individual strokes of the author’s handwritten language, to uncover the latent homosexuality within his written homophobia, and to generate a letterform-based code in which the author cannot answer back.

Desire teaches us that the more something is kept as a secret, the more we are driven to uncover and interpret it. Design allows us to interpret it. Such is the nature of Foucault’s confession, and our desire—as interlocutor—to translate and assimilate…and, from a design perspective, to ultimately visualize identity-formation and reverse-discourse empowerment.


This research will be featured as a chapter in Routledge’s Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences, to be released in 2016.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Bequeath(ed) Type

Liz DeLuna
Associate Professor of Graphic Design
Department of Art and Design
St. John’s University

Cemeteries provide a landscape rich in social, cultural and aesthetic history. They house the dead, but the grave markers designed and crafted by the living, leave a legacy of traditions, styles and preferences. This is especially evident in the variety of lettering styles that are particular to time periods and regions. Some gravestone carvers were more adventurous, others more conventional, and some eclectic, idiosyncratic and seemingly accidental. This lecture explores the process involved in creating a digital type family based on 18th century gravestone inscriptions and includes an examination of the original inspiration, visual exploration and primary research, as well as the use of relevant design technologies.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Too Many Grads Redux

Kathryn Weinstein
Associate Professor
Queens College, CUNY

A startling revelation concerning outcomes for students graduating with graphic design degrees emerged from Steven Heller’s (2005) article, Too Many Grads or Too Few Competencies? The Design School Dilemma. The article estimated that as many as fifty percent of students graduating from design programs quit the field within one year after graduation. Is the fallout due to design programs graduating too many students who lack the competencies for gainful employment in the field or is there simply a glut of graduates relative to the number of entry-level positions?

This study examines whether there are an excess number of graphic design graduates in relationship to the actual number of jobs available nationally. The author compares the number of students graduating from four-year colleges with a degree in graphic design or related fields in 2013 against the number of estimated job openings during the same time period. Additionally, the author estimates the number of graduates from other types of accredited degree programs that may increase competition for the same types of jobs as graduates with bachelor degrees in graphic design. The results reveal the extent to which the field may be over-saturated for entry- level employment in graphic design. This study may be used as a basis for further research for design educators.

PRESENTATION: TooManyGrads_K_Weinstein_3_2015

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Voice + Space + Place: Black Cultural Expression

Kelly Walters
Rhode Island School of Design
MFA Candidate in Graphic Design

I am a multimedia artist, a critical thinker, and a choreographer who works to understand the construction of black cultural expression in mainstream media. My aim as an artist, is to identify patterns within language, both visual and articulated, as a source from which I can re-frame how American audiences interact and consume black culture today. My work as a critical thinker, heavily relies upon close observation of historical context in racial tension and socio-political frameworks that impact the identity of the black body. As a choreographer, I am instrumental in creating spaces for dialogue, where collaborators can connect and share experiences that counter widely held racial stereotypes. In performing each of these roles, I become a catalyst in any given environmental space. At times these roles blur, and I transition into being an instigator, a narrator, and a facilitator all working simultaneously to create new meaning and context. By renegotiating black cultural symbols, I am able to pose counter-narratives that overturn the dominant perspective. These alternative outlooks allow me assess whether the mediated black images that I am exposed to, align with how I view myself or how society views me. I continually look for validation in these representations, but am often left with mixed emotions. While there are times that my lived experiences parallel that of characters on television sitcoms, I am concurrently faced with black female portrayals on reality television that leave me disconnected and alienated. My beauty standards are called into question as well as my personal attitude and behavior. How should I conduct myself? How should I be speaking right now? What social circles should I exist in? Who am I supposed to be? These questions are rooted in my artistic practice and guide my deeper explorations of how black identity is formed and the complex ways in which it manifests itself.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Modes of Self-Publishing

Minkyoung Kim, Christina Webb
Rhode Island School of Design
MFA Candidates in Graphic Design

Modes of Self-Publishing focuses on ‘zine’, not just as a circulation platform for printed matter, but as an experimental vehicle for visual or verbal content. Within this course, students explored the various potentials of self-publishing: cooperative assembly, collaboration, collective authorship, and distribution.

As thesis students, we wanted to consider a pedagogical way in which to share our areas of research with others in creative practice. This included students of graphic design and other disciplines. For Design Incubation, we plan to present our development and experience of this course touching on: how we dynamically integrated our own theses investigations into the projects and critique, how the class explored collaboration, and how rules can foster a space to experiment.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.