CDF Syllabus

Fall 2017—Section B

From the 1982 census for agriculture, Flickr/Creative Commons


Communication design is used to inspire, influence, incite action or simply to help us get from point A to point B. This course introduces non-majors to the field by focusing on the foundations of visual communication that are relevant to a variety of disciplines, such as two-dimensional composition, letterforms, typesetting, and the typographic grid. Through studio projects, presentations, and demonstrations, you will become familiar with the visual and verbal language of communication designers, the design process, and the communicative value of word and image.

This course is studio-based, comprised of assignments ranging from short foundational exercises to more in-depth communication projects. You will learn basic principles and vocabulary for composition, color, and typography, and employ them to create thoughtful design solutions.

Projects require work in both traditional and digital mediums. Basic software tutorials and guidance will be provided, but remember that this course focuses on design principles, not software training.

You Will…

  • perform exercises to get your feet wet
  • attend to lectures to gain new information/perspectives
  • engage in projects to learn through making
  • participate in critiques to verbalize your views
  • join in discussions to develop shared understanding
  • present work to communicate your thinking
  • document activities to reflect on your learning

In Order To…

  • illustrate an understanding for how context shapes, and is shaped by design to begin to see how the things you make relate to the world in which we live
  • develop appropriate ideas in response to project assignments to learn how to design things for people other than yourself
  • build a process for working that enables consistent, incremental growth to work through projects constructively and communicate your thinking to others
  • translate and communicate ideas into effective, well-crafted forms to learn fundamental design approaches and develop hand skills
  • articulate your ideas well, both verbally and visually to build your design vocabulary and learn to use form to convey your thinking
  • collaborate with your peers; share ideas and information to expand the breadth and depth of your thinking and practice contributing to a group
  • understand and integrate feedback into your creative working process to evaluate your actions/work from different perspectives and use insights to make improvements

Course Structure:

Classroom Setting

This is a studio course, which means that class time is a valued time for interaction. Therefore, your presence is required, and we expect your full participation in class activities. A typical session may include a critique, a short lecture and discussion, and/or time to work in class. Expect to spend at least six to nine hours outside of class per week working on projects; this will vary depending on your design process and work habits.Please note that we expect you to use class time effectively. Please do no surf the web, use your phones, etc. during work sessions. We place a great deal of importance on student/teacher interaction during the design process. Therefore, we will often meet with you individually to discuss the current project. It is your responsibility to be prepared to show and discuss your progress with us.


Four to five substantial projects form the framework for the course. These will vary in duration, content, and complexity. Each project will be weighted more for your final grade than the previous. For each project, we will provide you with a description, goals, deliverable specifications, and milestone dates. Note: failure to work within these constraints will affect the grade you receive. We will also show you examples of relevant work throughout the semester. If you see something that interests or inspires you, be sure to share!


Group activities are particularly important components of a studio course. Your participation in them will help you develop an ability to objectively evaluate your work and that of your peers. They help you verbalize your thoughts, learn a new vocabulary, and, most importantly, develop the ability to maturely accept criticism and work constructively with it. Your contributions are vital to the success of the activities and 
 will be expected. Please feel comfortable and prepared to jump into the conversation.


From time to time, you, your classmates, and your instructors will present information to the group. As a courtesy to the rest of the class, please turn off or silence all mobile devices, including cell phones and laptops, and pay full attention to the speaker. When we’re in the middle of a lecture, presentation, or critique please make sure to turn off computer screens or close laptops.


Class time will be spent either in the computer cluster CFA 318 or MM 121. CFA 318 will be used for digital work sessions and small lectures. MM 121 will be used for non-digital work sessions, group critiques, and hands-on workshops.

Course Expectations

Develop new skills.

By the end of course you should be capable of producing good work of your own by:

  • having developed a discerning eye and a skillful hand
  • understanding fundamental design concepts and how to apply them
  • designing communication that is appropriate for audience and context
  • following a systematic design process
  • offering constructive criticism and clearly articulating your own design decisions

Document your process.

Actively document your design decisions and steps from beginning to end for each project. Document your work and the discoveries that you make along the way in the form of sketches, notations, digital iterations, and visuals that inspired you along the way. Your documentation should be curated and does not have to be tediously detailed. It should show the process that lead to the final outcome as well as your thoughts about the final critique. This is not intended to be a chore but rather serve as an opportunity for you to track your progress and reflect on your process throughout the semester. If you are struggling with a specific concept or other issue with your design, your documentation often provides information that enables us to help you navigate problems and see where you might pivot in your work. As you document your work, it should inform the next steps to be taken on a project. You’re welcome to think of creative ways to incorporate media beyond still image and text into your documentation, if relevant.

Submit your projects.

Detailed guidelines for the submission of each project will be defined in the assignment sheets you receive. In general, projects must be submitted on time and include a clear labeling of your name in a conspicuous place (often on the back or bottom of your work). Assignments are meant to be completed in small steps, not in one heroic effort the night before. Keeping up with the deadlines of the project ensures we can give you good feedback. Missing critiques or delivering late work will result in a reduced project grade and a reduced Participation/Attitude grade. Students show academic integrity in this course by authoring and designing their own work at all times. Any sources for written or creative assignments must be clearly cited.

Attend class.

Class meetings begin at 8:00pm and continue until 9:20pm. Please arrive on time and stay for the duration of class to ensure that you don’t miss valuable information. Absences are not encouraged, but understanding that unforeseen circumstances will occur, we’ll overlook three absences, but be aware that your work may be affected by the information you miss. Four absences will drop your final grade by one letter; five absences will earn you a failing grade. Please schedule doctor’s (and other) appointments for times other than class sessions. If you are fifteen minutes late, you will be marked as absent. If you come to class late, it is your responsibility to make sure the TA has updated the roll, since the TA will often be occupied with other tasks and may not see you come in. In the event that you can’t be in class, please send us a message via email or Slack. You are responsible for information you miss through absences or lateness.

Communicate with us.

If you have questions outside of class please email or Slack us. We will respond to you as soon as possible. Keep in mind, we may not frequently check messages late in the evenings or throughout weekends. Please check your Slack and email often so that you are not left out of the loop.

The instructor and teaching assistant do not have office hours but can find time outside of class to meet if requested. The minutes immediately after regular studio hours are often the best opportunity to see your instructor or teaching assistants for any special help you may need. You may contact either one of us for a meeting outside of scheduled studio hours. We don’t mind putting in the extra time, and we expect that you won’t either, as long as it doesn’t conflict with anyone’s other scheduled courses or meetings. We are committed to offering you a good educational opportunity in the School of Design and look forward to working with you this semester!

Don’t plagiarize.

Plagiarism is regarded by the university and the School of Design as a serious academic offense. Depending on the content and context of the offense and at the recommendation of the course instructor, the penalty shall be either failure of the assignment or failure 
 of the courses. There’s more information online at

Here’s the gist of what it says: Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to, failure to indicate the source with quotation marks or footnotes where appropriate if any of the following are reproduced in the work submitted by a student: 
1. a phrase, written or musical; 2. a graphic element; 3. a proof; 4. specific language; 5. an idea derived from the work, published or unpublished, of another person.

Use workplace etiquette.

The classroom is your workplace. Please cooperate with each other in keeping it a safe, clean place, free from hazards or offensive materials. Please be courteous to your classmates and abide by cluster rules. Please note that food is not allowed in the cluster.

Come with the right supplies.

Required supplies include good quality pens (ex: Sharpie, Staedtler, Lamy), a sketchbook (8.25 x 5 or larger), and USB drive (or other means of backing up your files such as Dropbox or Box).

Recommended Book: Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students by Ellen Lupton (Second Edition)

Get connected online.

You will be asked to use a few different online services to help with various parts of the design process for each project. If you need help setting up an account with these services, please ask for assistance from the instructor or TA.

For documenting your work & posting assignments:

For communication with the instructor, TA, or classmates: Email or Slack

For class materials & submissions:

Evaluation + Grading:

You will receive feedback throughout the semester in the form of written comments. The categories listed on the rubric below describe the criteria on which you will be evaluated.

Note that the columns do not equate to letter grades. Instead, they explain commonalities in performance that may be helpful as a learning guide. It’s also important for you to excel in ALL of the areas. (Think of them as a holistic group.) For example, producing a stellar final product void of a cohesive developmental process and consistent participation in class activities indicates that you have not mastered the course learning objectives.

The objectives defined in each project brief provide more detailed information about the specific topics covered and the importance of each. Overall course grades will be issued at mid-term and at the end of the semester.

If at any point you’d like additional feedback on your performance please don’t hesitate to tap us.

The Rubric:


Take a look at recommended books.

Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits
by Debbie Millman

Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual
by Timothy Samara

Design for Communication: Conceptual Graphic Design Basics
by Elizabeth Resnick

Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
by Joel Katz

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be
by Paul Arden

Making and Breaking the Grid
by Timothy Samara

Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art
by Paul Rand

Soak Wash Rinse Spin 
by Tolleson Design

The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color
by Johannes Itten

The Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst

Get inspired.

Learn the software:

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