Teaching the History of Graphic Design to Visual Learners

Solution: add a significant drawing component to the curriculum

Ingrid Hess 
Assistant Professor 
University of Massachusetts Lowell

I teach the History of Graphic Design to art and design students. Most of them are visual learners. I find it an exciting challenge to teach in a way that inspires learning among these students. Below are excerpts from an article I wrote for the international journal Visual Inquiry in 2013 entitled, “How Drawing Helps Keep History Present”.

When I was an art student, one of my favorite classes was art history. I remember my professor’s lectures to be fascinating yet I remember almost nothing about art history itself. The information she shared with the class didn’t stick with me. Two decades later I was asked to teach a History of Graphic Design class. I was thrilled and terrified. How could I teach a class as interesting as the one I took years before yet help my students retain the information they were learning? My solution was simple: add a significant drawing component to the curriculum. By having students create work based on the lectures I presented they put their knowledge into immediate use. The results were astounding. On tests throughout the semester, questions relating to the drawing assignments were much more likely to be answered correctly than other questions.

A pleasant surprise—regardless of a student’s inherent drawing skill, using drawing was an effective tool. My class consisted of both art majors and non-art majors. I graded not on the expertise of the rendering, but rather on how each student integrated new knowledge of graphic design history into the drawing assignments.

The most rewarding part of the course was seeing how much the students loved the drawing assignments. At the end of the class when I asked the students what they thought they would remember from the semester, all of them stated a lesson that went along with a drawing assignment.

Visualizing Historical Arguments

A Hispanic identity has been part of the United States since long before the massive immigration of the last decades. I explore the process as a form of research over finished forms.

Camila Afanador-Llach
Assistant Professor, Graphic Design
Florida Atlantic University

Visual representations of arguments based on historical events have the potential to shed light on contemporary issues. The graphic formats to structure such representations can include maps, data visualizations, and interactive archives. In this presentation, I show a series of projects where I use the tools of design to explore contemporary questions about the identity of places with a historical perspective. Using datasets and existing archives I seek to make evident the argument that a Hispanic identity has been part of the United States since long before the massive immigration of the last decades. I explore the process as a form of research over finished forms. With each iteration I continue to understand how arguments developed in long narrative texts can be communicated through visual forms.

In my engagement with historical narratives, I pursue more inclusive frameworks and decentralized ways of telling stories. Representing an argument in a visual format is also an act to bridge design practices with the humanities in the hope to establish methodologies for collaborative interdisciplinary endeavors.

Espiritu, Texas 1886-2015: An Essential Part Of American History

Andrés Vera Martínez
Assistant Professor,  Cartooning and Illustration
Lesley University College of Art and Design
Cambridge, MA

The Spanish term Mestizos, meaning mixed, came into popular usage during the 16th century to describe the offspring of Spaniards and Native Americans. Vaqueros, or the first cowboys, were Mestizos and their cowboy culture has been mythologized and marketed; but too often stripped of the ethnic origins before presented for popular consumption. Tejanos, or the first Texans, were borne of the mix of Spaniards and Native Americans and were the original cowboys of the United States. This culture lives on today in Texas through the food, language and ranching culture.
Espiritu, Texas 1886 -2015 will tell the story of a Texas built upon the struggles and triumphs of diverse people. This presentation will focus on one chapter, Lamesa, TX 1961: Andrew Martínez.