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COMD 3504 Communication Design Theory

  • 3 class hours, 3 credits
  • Prerequisites: ENG1121 & ARTH 3311
  • Writing Intensive (WI)

Course Description

An in-depth introduction to communication design theory, this course examines 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 are explored through critical readings in key documents from the early decades of the twentieth century to the present. 

Required Text

Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory: Readings From the Field, Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/citytech-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3387353

NOTE: This text is available online for free via City Tech Library’s off-campus access. You will need an active City Tech Library card to access this book.

Additional Texts and Media

Communication Design Theory OER: openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/comdtheoryoer

This Open Educational Resource (OER) provides students interested in the field of communication design theory with a growing selection of contemporary and historical media to support their research. Students, faculty, and researchers may submit openly licensed media for inclusion. Except where otherwise noted, content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

(See OER Bibliography for list supplementary texts)

Communication & Collaboration Tools

This course will use a combination of online communication tools to facilitate a supportive and effective learning environment. These may include OpenLab, Blackboard, Google Docs, Hyposesis, City Tech Email, YouTube, YuJa, or other tools recommended by the instructor.

Teaching & Learning Methods

  • Lectures and class discussion
  • Research-based writing and presentation
  • Research Journal
  • Peer-to-peer exercises and critiques
  • Weekly use of online forums for reflective writing
  • Field trips and/or visiting lecturers

Writing Intensive

This course is designated “Writing Intensive.” Students will be writing every week, in class and on the OpenLab via weekly blog posts, peer-to-peer comments, and journal entries. Part of this practice will be presenting thoughtful reflections on their learning process in order to demonstrate their comprehension of challenging theoretical concepts. The instructor will provide timely feedback and guide students as they develop their research proposals and final presentations. Students will also submit critical written analyses of historical design examples and readings leading to formal 2-3 page research or exploratory papers following standard citation guidelines.

Grade Distribution

In this writing-intensive course, students are expected to write between 30-40 pages in total.

  • Response Posts / Discussion Comments 25% (1 page weekly)
  • Research Papers 20% (2-4 pages each)
  • Research Journal 10% (1 page weekly)
  • Research Project & Presentation 25% (2-3 pages)
  • Productivity & Participation 20%

Course Assignments

Weekly readings and written reading responses are central to this course. Completing every reading is necessary for the successful completion of the course. Your weekly written responses, two short papers, and class comments will be posted on the class website. The course will also require independent research using a Research Journal and will culminate in a Research Project and Presentation. 

Weekly Reading Response (25%)

Each weekly reading will be posted on the class site and will include a set of questions or prompts intended to promote critical engagement and class discussion. You will be expected to write a 3-4 paragraph comment reflecting on the text presented and provide feedback on your peers’ reflections. Responses must be submitted on the date due. 

Research Papers (20%)

Twice during the semester, in lieu of the weekly reading response, you will submit a Research Paper, 2-4 pages (750-1000 words) in length, typed in double-spaced 12 pt Times New Roman, with all references and quotations properly cited according to MLA guidelines. These papers will be formally structured essays concerning assigned readings and your individual research. These readings may relate to your research topic and/or may take the form of an exploratory essay to help guide your research.

Research Journal (10%)

Each week you will add to your online Research Journal, documenting and critically reflecting on your influences, history, culture, likes, and dislikes. This practice of being curious about your own design aesthetic is a way to gain experience engaging with critical design theory. Your Research Journal is a place for collecting ideas, freewriting, images, links, videos, and other media to help you develop your ideas and formulate your research topic. It can also be a place to reflect on the readings and write your rough drafts before they are put into a formal post, comment, or paper.

Your journal may be private or public throughout the semester but it should be submitted at the midterm and end of the semester for review.

Research Project & Presentation (25%)

By Week 7, you will present a well-defined research topic and outline of a final research project to be presented in class and/or posted on the class site for feedback.

In the final three weeks of class, you and your peers will present your independent research. You will be expected to articulate a clearly defined topic concerning contemporary design and theory, by way of a well-designed poster or slide deck with voice or video narration. Your research project should serve as an opportunity to connect your own design practice with professional research methodologies and the design theory presented in this course.

The research project and presentation will:

  • include a 5-10 minute visual and verbal presentation (in person or video)
  • demonstrate professional research practices (written, verbal, visual)
  • connect graphic design history and theory with the contemporary design field
  • demonstrate a connection between your design practice and theoretical concepts covered in the course
  • include an outline, annotated bibliography and glossary
  • demonstrate methods of primary and secondary source evaluation

Productivity & Participation (20 %)

Discussions of assigned readings will play a critical role in this course. Class conversations, whether face to face or asynchronous, should not only provide a better understanding of the readings but should also make the course more engaging for everyone.

Effective participation is demonstrated by:

  • Posting and commenting on the shared class site by the set deadline, including contributing to discussions, or giving peer feedback.
  • Actively participating in presentations and discussions.
  • Following best practices for face-to-face and online learning.
  • Class preparedness; coming prepared for class and checking the class site for instructions, prior to the class meeting.
  • Timeliness; arriving to class on time and completing assignments on time.
  • Asking questions, volunteering answers, and helping other students
  • Paying attention during demonstrations and presentations
  • Following instructions and taking notes

Assessment Methods 

Weekly classroom discussion and writing/posting/commenting assignments allow the instructor to assess individual participation and enable the instructor to see how well students comprehend the material and accurately apply terminology, strategies, and concepts. Students will meet (online or in-person) with the instructor at least twice during the semester to review and assess their research journal and research poster. Students are encouraged to ask questions in class and via the class blog regularly.

Learning Objectives and Assessment

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: For the successful completion of this course, students should be able to: ASSESSMENT METHOD:
Instructional activity and evaluation methods. Students will:
Develop a historical appreciation of communication design including designers, technologies, media, and processes, and creative expression, challenges, effects, and significance.ACTIVITY: View and analyze design projects in a variety of media including print, tv and radio, audio, video and film, illustration, signage, and other forms, in the classroom and at home. EVALUATION: Via weekly blog posts and journal entries, students submit critical analyses to design projects and readings chosen by the instructor.
Acquire an understanding of different forms, traditions, processes, and styles of communication design in different national and international contexts.ACTIVITY: View, read, and discuss the works of significant designers in the history of communication design. EVALUATION: During online and in-person discussions and critiques, students will articulate thoughtful responses to examples viewed in Class Lectures and outlined in textbook readings.

General Education Objectives and Assessment

Demonstrate an ability to think critically, to distinguish between fact and opinion, in the analysis of different kinds of design. ACTIVITY: Exploring material from a variety of sources in the classroom, field trips, and readings, students will develop vocabulary and theoretical methods necessary to analyze relationships between formal elements (i.e., style, composition), processes, and concepts/approaches to communication design.  EVALUATION: Through writing assignments and class presentations, students will be able to compare and contrast the movements, styles, concepts, and important practitioners of design. Students will be asked to identify and cite primary and secondary sources in discussion and writing assignments.
Demonstrate the ability to evaluate critical and historical materials for the study of design and to construct a coherent and substantiated argument, written in clear and correct prose.ACTIVITY: Student research poster and journal will allow students to practice bibliographic skills; will require students to select an aspect of design theory, research its significance, propose a thesis, develop content and design an informational academic poster. ACTIVITY: Reflective writing in journal and blog will help students to develop effective writing skills. EVALUATION: Verbally and in writing, students are evaluated on their ability to communicate their understanding of design theory as it applies to design practice and history. 
Develop communication skills and demonstrate the ability to reflect critically on the learning process.ACTIVITY: Group discussions and peer critiques include review of readings, historical design examples, and research projects. EVALUATION: Students articulate their knowledge of design styles, movements, and significant works, and are able to present a critical opinion of their learning process using reflective writing after each exercise in their design journals.

Attendance (College) and Lateness (Department) Policies

Attendance is taken and is important to success in this class. Both absences and arrival more than 15 minutes after the start of class will be marked. If excessive, the instructor will alert the student that he or she may be in danger of not meeting the course objectives and participation expectations, which could lead to a lower grade.

If this course is being offered asynchronously, attendance and lateness are determined by timely participation in discussion, posting, and commenting deadlines set by the instructor.

COMD Attendance Policy

The COMD BFA and AAS are design studio programs. In-class activities and engagement with other students are a significant portion of the courses. Absences in excess of 10% of the total class hours will result in a 10% drop from your grade due to an inability to meet deliverables of participation. This is in addition to other penalties that will be imposed for failure to complete academic requirements. No more than 4 class absences will be tolerated. It is expected that you will be ready to work at the start of each period. Any 2 latenesses will be considered to be equal to 1 absence.

Academic Integrity Standards 

Students and all others who work with information, ideas, texts, images, music, inventions, and other intellectual property owe their audience and sources accuracy and honesty in using, crediting, and citing sources. As a community of intellectual and professional workers, the College recognizes its responsibility for providing instruction in information literacy and academic integrity, offering models of good practice, and responding vigilantly and appropriately to infractions of academic integrity. Accordingly, academic dishonesty is prohibited in The City University of New York and at New York City College of Technology and is punishable by penalties, including failing grades, suspension, and expulsion.


Class Etiquette & Netiquette

This course aims to foster and support an inclusive learning environment where diverse perspectives are recognized, respected, and seen as a source of strength. Learning is a group activity. The actions of each person in class affect the overall learning environment. As a COMD student, you are expected to act in a professional manner; to be respectful of the learning process, your instructor, and your fellow students. And hopefully, have fun!

Independent Work

In order to meet the coursework requirements set by the college, you are expected to work outside of class meeting time and schedule independent work time to complete your coursework.

If your course is held asynchronously, the work you would typically complete “in class” must be completed independently. This includes watching the lecture and/or slideshow, videos, readings, reading responses, research, posting, commenting, field trips, etc.

Setting aside a defined time to complete your course work is essential to the successful completion of a face-to-face or asynchronous course.

Make-ups & Late Work

If you are not able to present or hand in an assignment on the scheduled due date, it is your responsibility to notify the instructor BEFORE the due date.

Late assignments and missed discussions will affect the successful completion of your Learning Plan and your final grade.

Points are deducted from your final grade for late assignments and missed discussions, but it’s better to turn in incomplete work than late work.

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