Designing for Understanding 
VISC 304 Sophomore Studio | Project 1 | Project 2 | Project 3 | Resources

Welcome. This is a “studio” class that involves investigation into graphic desig methods and the practice of graphic design as a tool for visual communication.

Last semester you focused on form making. Understanding why/how things look the way they do. Representing an animal visually in a variety of ways; exploring a typeface and it’s parts; visualizing something that is inherently non-visual (an album of music)…you explored techniques, means of production and the principles of visual communication. How to manipulate image and typography for some formal goal. You put type, forms, and images together and were able to judge whether or not they conveyed an intended message. You learned how to use these systems of relationships or rules to make visual messages.

This semester we will continue to explore techniques for making form while also being more critical, intentional and aware of the audiences and contexts we design for. We will continue to practice and learn new design methods or (repeatable ways of doing things) that can further be broken down into processes. A blitz, audits; moodboard; grid or wire framing; scenario-building; rapid prototyping; sketching; brainstorming; these are some of the methods we use…the what and when of doing things in a design project.

You will learn methods through practice (doing), so that you can learn how to select, communicate, and execute appropriate methods for specific design problems or particular parts of a design project in the future.


Theory is often presented as the opposite of practice (doing), but in reality it comes from practice, as designers encounter the same questions over and over again in seemingly unrelated situations. What’s the influence of technology or tools on aesthetics? Should designers regard themselves as authors? Do designers have ethical responsibilities? What are they? What is the role of the designer in the environmental crisis? How do audiences decode a visual message? What is the best way to visually orient a visitor to navigate a new space (physical or virtual)?

This semester we will explore formal concepts, techniques, methods and theory with the intent of learning to become better and more responsible graphic designers.

And have everyone pass sophomore review!

Specifically we will explore:

• Defining communication problems by understanding
  audience and context
• Applying creative problem solving processes
• Constructing visual narrative(s)/messages for specific 
  communication goals
• Using visual organization structures + principles
• Developing critical thinking
• Reflecting on the graphic design profession,
  its practice and role(s) in society
• Utilizing technology efficiently and appropriately
• Have fun! and Make Stuff!

In order to prepare you for sophomore review, contemporary design practice and the need for practitioners to be able to create appropriate visual solutions to complex communication problems. The purpose of this course is for you to learn HOW to design for the effective visual communication of specific messages to specific audiences in specific contexts.

The activities in this course will center around three projects.
And will introduce you to the many possible “roles” of a designer.
Project schedules will be fast, but realistic. Timelines will demand that you are always prepared, effective and efficient. If you miss your weekly deadlines, you may not be able to catch up.

Generally the projects will take four weeks and will broken down into the following weekly activity:

Week 1: Generating: Getting things started/Defining or Finding the Problem
Week 2: Conceptualizing: Putting ideas together
Week 3: Optimizing: Turning abstract ideas into solutions
Week 4: Implementing: Getting things done

Additionally you will document and reflect on the process of how you arrived at each solution by creating process books or presentations and posting your work to your blog or portfolio website.

Projects are designed to expose you to the many roles of a graphic designer and you will be challenged to be design thinkers and makers:

The Three projects will challenge you to:

1. Redesign a Toy/Utensil/Office Package
Audit the situation and design a smarter, more environmentally responsible and effective packaging solution that enhances the user’s experience.
- researcher/observer and analyzer
- problem solver
- prototyper and form maker
- user experience designer

2. Symbol & MarksSymbols are a mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process.Symbols are a fundamental part of visual communication as a whole. Representing processes, objects or ideas even when they are abstract is the fundamental challenge of brand and logo design.
- visual problem solver
- logo and form maker
- graphic designer

3. Design an Information Graphic
Translate an abstract process or detailed how-to sequence into a understandable and engaging visual experience.
- visual problem solver
- information architect and form maker
- storyteller

Upon successful completion of the course the student will be able to:To be able to analyze images for meaning, particularly emotional content and subtext (connotation and denotation).

To be able to organize a given area of two-dimensional space with respect to some specific, clearly stated aesthetic and/or communicative purpose.

To be able to select, employ and alter images with respect to some specific, clearly stated aesthetic and/or communicative purpose.

To be able to synthesize and deploy introductory technical/production methods used in the creation of imagery, both static and motion, when appropriate.

To demonstrate image sensitivity: the control of variables specifically: color, composition, cropping, pov and mark making in achieving legible and expressive visual meaning.

To demonstrate time and motion sensitivity: the control of variables specifically: pacing, sequence, duration, montage and kinesthetics in achieving legible and expressive visual meaning.

To have an working understanding of the creative problem solving process(es). To develop an awareness to communication issues relevant to graphic design, specifically, audience and context.

To establish a contemporary context for graphic design and visual communication career opportunities.

To have an introductory understanding of communication theory.

This course will provide opportunities for students to gain design knowledge and abilities through studio projects and critique presentations. Additionally, lectures, readings, demonstrations, slide presentations, class and group discussions, and personal student meetings will be used.

In order to get the most out of this class and grow as a young design student, you will need to engage in the course work proactively with a serious attitude and a willingness to work beyond just doing what is asked. Work hard and challenge yourself, you learn by doing. I can’t tell you exactly what you should/could be doing (I will give baseline expectations) Design is a very competitive profession, but it is also a very rewarding one and this course is taught with that mindset. Students are expected to work hard, every day, not just for good grades but for the growth that the work brings and the skill development that comes with it.

Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class period. Three “late” marks will equal one absence. A total of 3 absences will be allowed for any reason. On your 4th absence you will be asked to withdraw from the course or be administratively withdrawn by the department. If it is necessary for you to be absent from class for more than 3 classes for any reason including medical condition, you should withdraw from the class.

In the event of any absence, students are still responsible for obtaining all information and materials from the class period and completing all assignments on time. It is your sole responsibility to find out about any new work assigned during your absence.

ADA Note
If you have special needs as addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please notify me immediately so that appropriate accommodations can be provided.

Religious Holidays
If any scheduled course meeting conflicts with mandated religious observance, the student must notify the instructor prior to the day of the observance that the student will be absent.

Expected Workload
Throughout the semester you are required to work a minimum of 3 hours of homework per 1 credit hour. A 3 credit hour studio will have a minimum of 9 hours of homework per week.

Many of you will find that you will need to spend even more time per week. Studio course projects require a great deal of time in order to develop and complete. Please be aware that not all project work can be done at home or at your convenience. If you are expecting to work a full-time or near full-time job (over 20 hrs. per week) it will most likely have a negative impact on your performance and grade. It is very difficult to try and balance both a full-time job and a full load of studio classes.

Professionalism and Participation
Design does not happen in a vacuum. Clear verbal skills are all important in communicating your ideas to clients and design team members. For all critiques, students are expected to come prepared to present their concepts, discuss how the form of their design supports their concept, and describe how they arrived at their ideas. Providing comment to your peers is a privilege. You will benefit from both giving and receiving feedback—you do not have to “like” another’s work, but you must provide insightful commentary in a courteous and productive manner.

Students are required to turn their mobile phones to silent and refrain from surfing the web, updating your facebook page (or any social media), checking email, text messaging, etc. during class, lectures, and demos. You may use theses devices only during designated break times.

Lack of professionalism can effect lower your grade by one full letter grade.

• attend class on time and stay throughout the whole class period
• prepared for every class
• participate in classroom discussions/crits
• maintain a positive and open-minded attitude
• demonstrate deliberate self-disciplined and timely work habits
• progressively strive for and achieve the highest standards of quality

Levels of Performance
A superior / excellent/ exceeds expectations
B very good
C satisfactory / meets expectations
D unsatisfactory / did not meet expectations
F unacceptable

A = Student grasps what is being taught, fulfills requirements with a good attitude, and challenges themselves; taking risks that push their development as designers.  Their work is well crafted, thoughtfully composed, and they offer insightful, intelligent, constructive comments during the class.

The grade of “A” is reserved for “exceptional work”.

B = Grasps what is being taught, fulfills requirements with a good attitude, and their work is well crafted and thoughtfully composed. 

C = Represents an understanding of the information, meets expectations but not beyond.

D = Overall weak display of understanding of the information.

F = Failing grade is indicative of poor attendance, poor attitude, lack of effort, lack of participation, and/or inadequate skills to progress within the field.

Completing the minimum requirements outlined on an assignment sheet qualifies as “C” level (or average) work. Work that exceeds minimum expectations will earn higher points in the “B” range, work that is exceptional earns an “A”. Conversely, work that does not meet the requirements for the project will earn a lower grade than “C”. The degree and quality of effort with which a student engages in the different criteria (above or below the minimum requirements) for each assignment determines how well they do.

Late Projects
All projects and assignments are due on the date set by the instructor. Late projects will be penalized by lowering the project grade by one full letter grade for each day that it is late. After three days, late projects will no longer be accepted. Projects are due at the start of class.

Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct
All work you hand in for this class must be made by you, over the course of this semester, exclusively for this class. All necessary and appropriate sanctions will be issued to all parties involved with plagiarizing any course work. Plagiarism and any other form of academic misconduct that is in violation with the University Senate Rules and Regulations will not be tolerated, and may result in failing the course, suspension from the department, or expulsion from the university.  

The School of Architecture, Design and Planing Policy on Misconduct
Academic misconduct by a student shall include, but not be limited to, disruption of classes; threatening an instructor or fellow student in an academic setting; giving or receiving of unauthorized aid on examinations or in the preparation of notebooks, themes, reports, or other assignments; knowingly misrepresenting the source of any academic work; unauthorized changing of grades; unauthorized use of University approvals or forging of signatures; falsification of research results; plagiarizing of another’s work; violation of regulations or ethical codes for the treatment of human and animal subjects; or otherwise acting dishonestly in research. See full policy.

The Department of Design Grade Requirements
If this course is required under the majors studies section on your degree check sheet you must receive a grade of C (2.0) or better to continue on to the next course in the sequence. A grade of C- (1.7) or lower will require you to repeat this course. In most cases these courses are only offered once a year. Students in the Department of Design must maintain a cumulative 2.0 GPA to graduate with a degree in Design.


Students needing special assistance or accommodation should contact the KU Academic Achievement & Access Center office at 864-4064. They are located in room 22 in Strong Hall.


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Design Process
The central factor in determining your design ability will your understanding of visual concepts as they apply to assignments. The process of designing and how you got there is as important as any final artifact you make.

Research and multiple ideations are required for every assignment. It is vital to a successful design solution, as well as your development as a design student. All work must be thoroughly documented. Note: While the computer will usually be the ultimate tool for production, preliminary work will often be done on paper. Mock-ups, thumbnails and sketches are a way of exploring relationships quickly, asking questions by thinking and making simultaneously. It allows you to see multiple ideas, compare, and arrive at a point in which to select the “best” example to develop further.

Complete every step. Save every step. Reflect on every step and please ask questions. You have to make early and often to be successful in this class.