Zachary Kaiser
Concepts of Graphic Design
Michigan State University


I designed the curriculum for a new course, Concepts of Graphic Design, as part of the new Experience Architecture (XA) Degree Program as well as the new Graphic Design Minor. This course ran for the first time in the spring semester of 2015. It is the only time this course has been conducted in person. I subsequently redesigned it to be a larger, online course. Generally speaking, the core goals of the class were to introduce students to the various facets of Graphic Design as a discipline, and, through a combination of lectures, reading, and several design exercises, help students arrive at an understanding of the role of Graphic Design in the construction of meaning in everyday life.

Students moved from purely formal considerations (line, color theory, shape, contrast) to typographic considerations, and then from the typographic to semiotics and systems. In this way, they were able to experience the different things that designers grapple with in their work as professionals but also as mediators of culture.



Project: Systems and Rules
Without knowing much about the Adobe Creative Suite at all, students explored the ways in which limits can engender creativity. They designed systems of rules for one another to follow, and only certain techniques were allowed. The project resulted in complex and visually arresting posters.

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Designing the Online Experience for Concepts of Graphic Design (Summer 2015, 2016, ongoing)

I re-imagined the way STA260 would work, taking into account the difference between a 20-student hybrid studio-seminar and what could be upwards of a 50- or 75-student online class.

The online experience focused on helping students learn to see graphic design in the world around them, not as something “pretty” but as communication that operates in different ways according to the different (and sometimes competing) motivations and goals at play in its production.

This version of the course asks students to observe design in their everyday lives, and helps them analyze its power as a cultural form through three lenses: formal, typographic, and semiotic. Students collect pieces of design and take photographs of these objects, posting them to a blog and answering questions about these objects each week.

The final two projects ask students to synthesize their learnings. The "meaning-making project" asks students to juxtapose a single image from an archive of random images with ten random words from their "collections" and then to take a single word and juxtapose it with 10 different images. Students are limited to just a few typefaces and very little compositional freedom. They then show these juxtapositions to friends and family and ask these "users" a series of directed questions in order to understand how, quite simply, graphic design, as the combination of image and text, creates meaning and operates as a cultural form. The "design analysis" project, meanwhile, asks students to take an important piece of graphic design (these pieces are assigned to students) and analyze it using the lenses through which they spent the semester studying design, ranging from a formal visual analysis to a semiotic analysis invoking Barthes and Foucault.