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Communication Design
Course Code
COMD 3504
Semester / Year
Spring 2022
Course Description

Course Description
This course will offer an in-depth introduction to communication design theory, examining theoretical perspectives of design practice within the larger discourse of design and visual culture. Communication models, the nature of representation, the dimensions of context and semiotics will be explored through critical readings from key documents written between the early decades of the twentieth century and the present.

In this context, “theory” doesn’t mean “a hypothesis to be tested” (as in the sciences), but rather points to a set of working beliefs about how the world—or in this case, visual communication—works. Some aspects of certain visual communication theories are based on observable “facts,” but the way these facts are woven together says more about how we construct meaning than it does about empirical answers to factual questions. So why does a design professional—typically an eminently practical, hands-on person working toward a specific end for the benefit of a specific client—want or need to engage with visual communication theories? First, “doing theory” promotes a sophisticated level of reflection about design work—far beyond the touchstones of “did they like it?” and “did it serve its purpose?” Second, it encourages designers to think holistically about the contexts for their work—beyond the immediate job at hand to the larger contexts of the social, the cultural, and the historical. And finally, it recognizes the obvious: today, graphic design shapes our visual world and puts each person at the nexus of thousands of messages each day. In this course, we, as senders and receivers of such messages, will attempt to make sense of all this through our verbal discussions in class, our blog postings, and our research poster design and presentations.

We will be looking at two types of theories: generative theories, that explain the “how” of visual communication; and critical/sociocultural theories that explain the “what, where, and when” of design, or the historical, cultural and social contexts.

By developing the ability to look at design through these different lenses, professional designers can enhance the quality of their decision-making and have a better grasp on the multiple contexts and frameworks for clients and audiences. We can better understand and evaluate the many issues about local usability and usefulness within broader contexts of ethics, aesthetics, professional and social responsibility.