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.

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.

Designing with Power: Drawing Parallels Between Design Pedagogy and Writing Workshops

Graphic design has become affiliated with practices far afield from aesthetic foundations

Joshua Korenblat
Associate Professor
State University of New York at New Paltz

As described in his classic book Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (published in 1981), a more reliable method includes strategies for students to iterate and see their work from fresh perspectives. With these methods, graphic design students instead get the right idea before getting the idea right, to paraphrase designer Bill Buxton. In my course, writing workshops adapted for a graphic design intent included: Freewriting, the Loop Writing Process, Metaphor Priming, and haiku poetry reframed as comics. Cut-and-Paste Revising and the Collage also become essential at the end of the semester. By the end of the course, students reported an increased awareness of their decision-making, discernment of intentions and intuition, and mindfulness of audience and medium. Their final work shows appropriate graphic design decisions within a real-world context. At the same time, their work retains an authentic personal voice—a legacy of the handmade thinking from the earlier workshops.

In contrast to art studio pedagogy, which emphasizes visual products, writing workshops help writers develop an articulate voice for self and audience, emphasizing practice over vivid outcomes. Today, methods devised by Professor Elbow that seem most relevant for graphic design students—no matter the course they are in—include Freewriting for ideation and the Collage for editing and prototyping. These methods help graphic designers move discovery work from the art studio to a communication context. As designer Dave Gray notes, designers work with a visual language that supports the same purpose as verbal language. Gray cites Using Language, a book by Stanford linguistics professor Herbert H. Clark: designers use visual language to think, converse, communicate, collaborate, and co-create. Writing workshop strategies span prose and poetry; by adapting them for graphic design purposes, educators crystallize the everyday activities carried about by language and formalize them in design practice.

Most college graphic design programs operate in Art Departments in the United States. A legacy of the Bauhaus, this structure creates an implicit aesthetic foundation for visual communication. However, graphic design has become part of practices far afield from these aesthetic foundations. These practices have emerged as people inexperienced with visual communication can produce compelling graphics using intuitive apps. This change puts more emphasis on conceptual thinking and empathy in emergent fields of graphic design—skills that might not be taught in studio art academies, which democratize who can become a professional designer. Significant emergent fields of graphic design practice include user experience design, which draws upon ethnography and psychology, and data visualization, which converges data analytics with storytelling. Yet even classic practices, such as Art Direction, can benefit from the reframing of design with writing workshops. Students become more empowered to find their authentic voice and the practice of design becomes more democratic.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Semiotics Studio

Course outcomes connect the study of form to the political dimensions of designing, specifically how systems of representation bear on social realities

Design Teaching Award Runner-Up

Aggie Toppins
Associate Professor, Design
Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts
Washington University in St. Louis

Semiotics Studio is a new communication design course in the Sam Fox School at Washington University in St. Louis. Students learn the fundamentals of semiotic theory (the philosophical study of signs and systems of representation) and apply its concepts to studio practice. Students construct pictogrammatic signs for public contexts, shape experimental readings in motion graphics, and create critical interventions through an open design project. Learning outcomes for this class connect the study of form to the political dimensions of designing, specifically how systems of representation bear on social realities. Through exercises, projects, readings, and class discussions, students explore the world of meaning-making including categories of signs, the possibilities of interpretation, and how signs work to normalize cultural practices and perceptions of truth.

There are three studio projects in this course. At the beginning of the semester, projects come with multiple constraints but these gradually loosen so that by the end of the semester, students determine the scope of their own project. The first project is a pictogram assignment in which students learn to systemically construct signs on a formal level while applying basic semiotic concepts from Saussure, Peirce, and Barthes including models of signification, sign modes (icon, index, symbol), and the principles of denotation and connotation. Next is a motion graphics project in which students explore Barthes’ idea of “double articulation,” his twin concepts of anchorage and relay, as well as his critique of authorship. The latter is connected to Michael Rock’s writings on graphic authorship. The third and last project introduces students to poststructuralism including the relationship of signs to theories of power from Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari, and Baudrillard. Students are asked to choose an artifact or system of design, mind-map the semiotic domain that surrounds this artifact or system, and then design a critical intervention through a project of their own choosing.

In addition to these studio projects, students read challenging texts and write five reading responses. The texts are a combination of primary philosophical works, secondary texts, podcasts, and design criticism. Readings are applicable to studio projects and intended to exercise the student’s capacity for critical thinking.

My teaching methods are informed by emancipatory pedagogy, such as those espoused by Paolo Freire and bell hooks. I offer my students learning goals but my assignments do not have preconceived “right” or “wrong” answers. Assignments present students with opportunities to center their experiences and connect their personal interests to the field of communication design. Class time is spent on skill-building workshops, discussions in which students and teachers bring relevant examples (no lecturing to docile listeners), opportunities to workshop research, various forms of critique, and open work sessions.

Although we are in a classroom and we are reading texts and making speculative projects, I teach from the perspective that design has import. Together, we are co-investigating problems in the world (which is to say, many worlds). Semiotics is a theoretical trajectory that begins in Europe and the United States. I contextualize this in the classroom while relating the ideas to design in global contexts. We problematize Western thought by including critical perspectives on colonialism, modernism, and capitalism. My goal is to help students adopt design as a language for critical thinking so that they are equipped not just to take a position in the field, but to potentially transform it.

The Sam Fox School provides students with a robust form-based education. I developed this elective course to address the lack of curricular opportunities for students to engage critical and social theories in design. Additionally, I successfully applied to Wash U’s Gephardt Center to support an embedded librarian, Jenny Akins, to be present in our classroom community. My collaboration with Jenny allowed for the integration of information literacy learning outcomes simultaneously with semiotics and design. Every studio project was informed by a research phase. Having an embedded librarian created a mechanism for supporting students in adopting strong research habits in and out of the classroom.

Students responded well to the course and my teaching evaluations were entirely positive. In the final reviews, one student commented that they appreciated the community we built together and felt they had a lot of room to explore. Another student commented, “I understand what I’m doing now when I make design decisions.” In reflecting on the course, I was pleased with the diversity of responses to project prompts as well as the quality of the students’ work. Considering the challenges of remote learning and the mental and physical toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students, I was impressed by and grateful for the high level of energy that my students brought all semester. I look forward to teaching this class in the future and evolving the curriculum over time.

Aggie Toppins is an Associate Professor and Chair of Design at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Before joining the faculty at Wash U, Aggie taught for eight years at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she served for two years as the first female Department Head in Art. Aggie works at the intersections of studio practice and critical writing to explore the ways that visual communication bears on social realities. She is interested in the appraisal of history, the negotiability of meaning-making, and in using these critical orientations to decouple design from universalist narratives of capital. Her recent writing has been published by AIGA Eye on Design, Slanted, and in Briar Levit’s forthcoming book Baseline Shift: Untold Stories of Women in Graphic Design History (Princeton Architectural Press).

Architecture and Design Students Envision the Post-COVID Built Environment

How designers can prepare for the next pandemic by looking at it as a human-centered design initiative

Denise Anderson
Assistant Professor
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Craig Konyk
Associate Professor
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Kylie Mena
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Varrianna Siryon
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Humanity will call upon architects and designers to respond to the resulting modified human behaviors and built environment in the post-COVID-19 world. These areas include the need for flexibility of public spaces and interior layouts, rethinking product designs, and strategies for informational campaigns and digital safety platforms using an integrated design approach.

In spring 2021, a team of interdisciplinary students and faculty at the Michael Graves College were awarded a grant to explore how designers can prepare for the next pandemic by looking at it as a human-centered design initiative. The objective was to utilize the expertise areas of Architecture, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and Interior Design to research the pandemic’s effects on public spaces and propose design strategies to improve communities. For example, as part of a university-wide initiative on pandemic research, students proposed design solutions for the safe opening of Kean’s childcare center.

In the summer, as the world managed and changed due to the Delta variant and the anti- vaccine movement, further investigations into two areas hit hardest by the pandemic were explored: education and mental health. Extended research was conducted on special needs children and the increased anxiety that led to panic buying.

The presentation will examine the interdisciplinary design thinking process and solutions for the childcare center. It will present methodology soliciting support in undergraduate and graduate courses to identify pandemic-related problems and solutions. Furthermore, it will answer how design and architecture can help envision what communities need to manage and thrive in a post-COVID-19 environment.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 8.2: Annual CAA Conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

Design Incubation Colloquium 8.2: Annual CAA Conference 2022 (Virtual)

Presentations and discussion in Research and Scholarship in Communication Design at the 110th Annual CAA Conference 2022

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.

Thursday, March 3, 2022
 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Heather Snyder Quinn
DePaul University

Camila Afanador-Llach
Florida Atlantic University

Jessica Barness
Kent State University


Pakistani TVCs: How Local Advertisers are Coding Messages for Young Consumers 
Nida Ijaz
Ph.D. Scholar (Fine Arts) in Research Center for Art & Design, Institute of Design & Visual Arts, Lahore College for Women University, Pakistan

Architecture and Design Students Envision the Post-COVID Built Environment
Denise Anderson
Assistant Professor
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Craig Konyk
Associate Professor
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Kylie Mena
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Varrianna Siryon
Michael Graves College, Kean University

Colored Bodies: Cultural Constructs in Standard Color Theory Pedagogy
Aaron Fine
Truman State University

Interdisciplinary Human-Centered Design Research – Overcoming Practical Challenges Before and During The Pandemic Time – A Pragmatic Approach to Design Education and Practice
Sam Anvari
Assistant Professor
California State University Long Beach

The Black Experience in Design
Kelly Walters 
Assistant Professor
Parsons, The New School

Anne H. Berry
Assistant Professor
Cleveland State University

A Theory of Design Identity
Colette Gaiter
Departments of Africana Studies and Art & Design, University of Delaware

Bringing Peace (Circles) to (Design) Practice, Revisited
Dave Pabellon
Assistant Professor
Columbia College Chicago

Academic Marginality and Exclusion for Graphic Design Educators of the United States
Yeohyun Ahn
Assitant Professor
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Scholarship: Creative Works Award Runner Up
Jury Commendation for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Scholarship: Creative Works: Expanding the Canon

The online, interactive, archive addresses the previous invisibility of women in the history of women in Australian graphic design.1 This problem was demonstrated in the low representation of women in the Australian Graphic Design Associations (AGDA) Hall of Fame which had only one-woman inductee prior to the site’s launch. However, since the launch three more women’s biographies have been added, one which cites The data set demonstrating this was published in the appendix of The View from Here.3


#afFEMation – demonstrating a framework for gender-equitable histories, is an article outlining a methodological innovation that emerged from an analysis of the site’s build.4 This framework consists of five steps designed to assist researchers, historians and archivists consider gender-equitable histories. The steps include systemized privilege checking and the prioritizing of recent histories.


Filling the gendered gaps in Australia’s graphic design history and increasing the visibility of women was the aim of Right through the UK, US and Australia women are graduating from graphic design qualifications in a high majority.[5] was designed to make this new knowledge available as accessible and sharable portraits, biographies, galleries of work, videoed interviews and visualised networks.


The significant and interactive design of was reviewed by HOW Magazine as one of the ‘10 Best Design Websites’.6 The site was also launched at the Women in Design symposium and reviewed on-line as “thought-provoking”.7 Design industry blogs also published articles demonstrating the interest in equitable design histories, citing

  1. was a collaborative project which profiled Michaela Webb, Annette Harcus, Lynda Warner, Rita Siow, Lisa Grocott, Abra Remphrey, Dianna Wells, Sandy Cull, Sue Allnutt, Fiona Sweet, Gemma O’Brien, Jenny Grigg, Jessie Stanley, Kat Macleod, Simone Elder, Chloe Quigley, Kate Owen, Laura Cornhill, Rosanna Di Risio, Suzy Tuxen, Zoe Pollitt, Natasha Hasemer, Fiona Leeming and Maree Coote. Research, writing, art direction, and design was by Jane Connory, photography, sound, and image recording by Deborah Jane Carruthers and Carmen Holder, assistance from William Aung, and website development by Danni Liu. Jane Connory (2017) “#afFEMation. Making heroes of women in Australian graphic design”, (website accessed April 9, 2020). See more in Figures 1-12 in Documentation of the work itself. For evidence of the public launch at the Women in Design conference in Design Tasmania, 2017, see Document1_WomenInDesign.pdf in Other Uploaded Documents.
  2. The AGDA Hall of Fame began in 1992 and was published in the AGDA award compendiums before being compiled on their current website. is cited in Graham Rendoth (2018) “Annette Harcus”, (accessed April 9, 2020). See more in Figure 13 in Evidence of Publication and Significance.
  3. Jane Connory (2019) The view from here: Exploring the causes of invisibility for women in Australian graphic design and advocating for their equity and autonomy, Thesis, Monash University, pp. 176. (accessed April 9, 2020).
  4. Jane Connory (2017) “#afFEMation – demonstrating a framework for gender-equitable histories.” Community Informatics Research Network (CIRN), Conference, Prato, Italy, October, pp 41-47. (accessed April 9, 2020). Also see Document2_CIRNConference.pdf in Other Uploaded Documents.
  5. Jane Connory (2017) “Plotting a Historical Pipeline of Women and Design Education.” Design History Australian Research Network (DHARN) (accessed April 9, 2020). Also see Document3_PlottingThePipeline.pdf in Other Uploaded Documents.
  6. (attempted accessed April 9, 2020). Unfortunately, this online magazine has since gone into receivership and this link is no longer live.
  7. Penny Craswell (2017) Women in Design at Design Tasmania, The Design Writer, July 3. (accessed April 9, 2020). See more in Figure 14.; Anita Pava (2017) Colloquium includes Graphic Design, Stream, July 31. (accessed April 9, 2020). See more in Figure 15.
  8. Mirella Marie (2018), Women of Graphic Design (accessed April 9, 2020). See more in Figure 16.; Jane Connory (2018) Invisible women in Australian graphic design, Eye Magazine, July 4, (accessed April 9, 2020), (Figure 17); Jane Connory (2019) The Invisible Women of Australian Graphic Design, Parlour, October 17, (accessed April 9, 2020) See more in Figure 18.; Jane Connory (2020) Change, Word—Form, (accessed April 9, 2020). See more in Figure 19.

Dr Jane Connory has a PhD from Monash University, Art, Design, and Architecture, which worked towards a gender-inclusive history of Australian graphic design. She was awarded a Master of Communication Design (Design Management) with Distinction from RMIT and has been a practising designer in the advertising, branding, and publishing sectors, in both London and Melbourne, since 1997. She has also lectured in and convened communication design programs in both the VET and Higher Education sectors since 2005. Alongside her research exploring the visibility of women in design, she is currently a lecturer in Design Futures and Design Strategy at Swinburne University of Technology.

Thank you to all the women profiled on the website including: Michaela Webb, Annette Harcus, Lynda Warner, Rita Siow, Lisa Grocott, Abra Remphrey, Dianna Wells, Sandy Cull, Sue Allnutt, Fiona Sweet, Gemma O’Brien, Jenny Grigg, Jessie Stanley, Kat Macleod, Simone Elder, Chloe Quigley, Kate Owen, Laura Cornhill, Rosanna Di Risio, Suzy Tuxen, Zoe Pollitt, Natasha Hasemer, Fiona Leeming and Maree Coote.

Photography, sound & image recording: Deborah Jane Carruthers & Carmen Holder, assistance from William Aung.

Website development: Danni Liu & ClickTap Digital Media.

Research supervision: Pamela Salen & Gene Bawden.

Research assistants: Rachael Vaughan, Luke Robinson, Kristy Gay & Nick Fox.

Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2020 recipient

A Design Conversation of the Interaction Between Iranian and American Visual Culture

A comparison between two cultural identities through distinct cultural elements creating a visual language that is cross-cultural.

Setareh Ghoreishi
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

Defining culture includes the mention of customs, beliefs, values, etiquette, and behaviors as well as the artifacts and objects of a given society. Craftsmanship of artistic elements including rugs, table cloths, and pottery is a major part of any culture and is dependent on motifs and patterns and forms that have their roots in ancient art and civilization. Therefore, different cultures around the world have different historical elements that enable one culture to be visually distinguished from another. As an Iranian woman, I saw how my Middle Eastern culture is different from the Western culture of the United States. Since I have come to the United States, I visualized a comparison between these two cultural identities through distinct cultural elements to create a visual language that is cross-cultural. I utilized design tools and found visual elements in the different consumer systems, food habits, folks’ idioms, language, behavior, and etiquette in both cultures. In multiple areas, such as motion graphic, packaging, and logo design, video art, and image-making, I collected Persian motifs, traditional architecture, and language interaction to convey messages and translate my personal cultural differences. I am showing the role of graphic design and art in this cultural juxtaposition through different ways such as subvertisment, typography, motion typography, digital imaging, and video art.

I intend to use different techniques in exploring multiple areas of personal cultural value and utilize it as a tool to convey concepts. Furthermore, throughout the series of the works, I ask the viewer to be familiar with different aspects of Iranian culture. The visual elements I have executed represent the ancient traditions in contrast to contemporary and modern life, which can be shown as symbols of two different lifestyles.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University, MI on October 17, 2020.

Breaking Down Biases with Toys: An Interdisciplinary Design Project

Courses from three different schools collaborated on the project: Applied Infancy Development, Machine Design, and Graphic Design 3.

Nancy Wynn
Associate Professor
Merrimack College

Nicholas Paolino
Undergraduate Design Researcher
Merrimack College

Much child development research is biased towards privileged, white, mid-socioeconomic cultures. For example, data suggests mothers should use child-directed speech to promote language development (Rowe, 2008). Yet, recent evidence shows this type of talk is not promoted universally (Rowe, 2012). As a result, educational and clinical practices​, as well as policies​, ​may not address the needs of non-white, under-privileged populations. During the spring semester of 2019, three Merrimack College professors created an interdisciplinary project to promote positive development in infants/toddlers. The project’s goal was the development of a toy prototype that addressed specific developmental domains and considered various populations.

Courses from three different schools collaborated on the project: Applied Infancy Development, Machine Design, and Graphic Design 3. Students enrolled in discipline-specific courses were divided into eight groups, each consisting of one Graphic Design student and multiple students from Education and Mechanical Engineering. The modes for assessment were completion of the toys, marketing materials, and the development of collaboration skills.

Education students were the researchers and “clients.” Engineering students created the toy prototypes. Graphic design students designed marketing materials including branding, packaging and advertising. Throughout the semester, students met in large group meetings, virtual group meetings, made oral presentations, and publicly demonstrated their final designs. The pedagogical plan was to adopt a peer model whereby students could teach their peers what they learned in their respective disciplines and work together to synthesize their ideas.

Despite some challenges, the teams completed their prototypes and branding with much success. Afterwards, project assessment included: What changes should be implemented? Were the virtual meetings beneficial? Who might gain from inclusion—business students and marketing faculty? Additional funding?

The project captured the professional world of toy design quite well, and the faculty members are planning for round two in 2022.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.3: Fordham University on May 16, 2020.

Supporting the Chicago Design Community | Design Incubation Affiliated Society Meeting @CAA

Identifying strategies, filling gaps in organizational offerings, andcollaboratively expand reach of local organizations.

 Friday, February 14, 2020
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Hilton Chicago – Lower Level – Salon C-1

Design Incubation will host the College Art Association (CAA) conference business meeting for “Supporting the Chicago Design Community | Design Incubation Affiliated” at the Hilton Chicago on Friday, February 14th from 12:30–1:30 pm. There is no cost to attend this meeting.

Leaders from midwest design organizations including The Society of Typographic Arts, IxDA, AIGA, The New Media Caucus, Chicago Speculative Futures, The Society of Typographic Aficionados, Hexagon, The Chicago Design Archive, SEGD, and others will discuss industry, academic, and educational needs in the region. We hope this conversation will identify strategies for filling gaps in our organizational offerings, find opportunities for Design Incubation to support these long-standing groups, and collaboratively expand all of our reach.

Design Incubation is a volunteer academic organization whose focus and mission is the facilitation of research and scholarship in communication design. Our aim is to foster discussion and collaboration among academics and industry professionals. We are a resource for those working and studying within the field.