Tell The World: Visual Communication for Creative Practice

DA 2112 / Fall 2016 

Tell The World: Visual Communication for Creative Practice

Nancy Nowacek [nancynowacek at]

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor

Credits: 4

Time: Thursday 8:20am -12:00pm

Office Hours: by appointment 

Course Description

The goal of this course is to provide students who are new to the principles of visual design
with the practical knowledge, critical skills and confidence to effectively express their ideas graphically.

This course will supply an overview of the fundamentals used to convey an idea, communicate a message and influence a belief. Topics covered in the course include: typography, image treatment, color, composition, branding, promotional, instructional and editorial design. Through lectures, reading assignments, discussions, software demonstrations (Adobe Creative Suite), 

in-class and studio assignments, students will develop a conceptual and functional literacy in visual communication that can be applied across creative contexts.

This class is intended for students who do not have formal graphic design training but who recognize the powerful impact of visual form in the expression and exchange of ideas.


By the successful completion of this course, students should be able to

  • Typeset functional and expressive typography (and know the difference)
  • Know the difference between RBG & CYMK color and how to build colors and color palettes in each
  • Understand basic image resolution, manipulation, and export formats
  • Demonstrate understanding of working with text and image in a variety of contexts
  • Demonstrate understanding of the design process: from ideation to sketching to prototyping and feedback loops
  • Build documents in Adobe Indesign and Illustrator and use basic functionality of both programs
  • Exhibit attention to detail, craft and the development of craft skills.


  • Attendance: Students are required to attend every class; many of the classes will include live instructor-lead demos that do not exist online. More than 2 absences will result in a failing grade; more than 15 minutes late to class will be counted as an absence. Communication is essential: please email me or text me if you will be late to class; email me if you must miss a class.
  • Presence: Students are also required to be mentally present, fully focused on in-class critiques and discussions, asking questions when concepts or workflows are not clear. 
  • Students are required to work in-class and at home on assignments. 
  • Communication: Students must communicate their printing needs on color optional assignments directly with Jackson Moore (insert email here). 
  • For any assignment produced in color, only one round of color outputs will be allowed. PROOF JUDICIOUSLY IN BLACK AND WHITE. 


***Late work is not accepted.***

Please commit to

  • Respecting my time and the class’ time by showing up prepared and focused.
  • Embracing the amateur stance: Learning by trial and error, asking questions.
  • Being your most courageous and creative self.
  • Embracing the designers’ mindset: actively seeking feedback on your ideas from others not in the class; sketching ideas on paper before bringing them into the computer; and rigorously proofing your work before finalizing it (this may mean outputting a project more than once) and seeking in both technique and craft your concept and vision.

Office hours and help

I am available by appointment on email for time in-between class sessions or after class. When I’m not in Bennington, I’m also happy to do Skype/Facetime appointments as my schedule permits. Please do not call or text me for an appointment: please email me. If you have not heard back from me by the end of the day, then please text me to make sure I received your email.

Jackson Moore ( is available for your printing and technical questions.

Please ask each other for help! You all are a community of diverse skills and intelligences, and oftentimes when ideas or software are creating obstacles, someone nearby can help.

Course components

This class is an overview of visual communication. Nearly every week we will be learning a new element or type of design through the combination of lecture and artist/designer case studies.

Case Studies 

Each student will be responsible for presenting two 5-8 minute case studies of an artist or designer over the course of the semester. By 4pm on Wednesday, email me the images you would like to show (at least 3, but as many as you like). Case studies must include a very brief biography of your artist/designer, and a discussion of their work as relates to the day’s topic.

In-class demonstrations and assignments

Nearly every week, there will be an in-class software demonstration or tutorial in order to build your working knowledge of the creative suite. Often a very short in-class assignment will be given as a learning tool. Missing a class may mean missing in-class software instruction. This instruction will not be repeated. Any student missing software instruction may ask their peers for help catching up; peers are encouraged to share their knowledge. 

We will be working with Digital Foundations: Intro to Media Design with the Adobe Creative Suite by xtine burrough Michael Mandiberg to develop our skills with the Adobe Suite. 

The book is available and weekly exercises can be found online here:

In addition to short homework projects, weekly homework assignments will be given to read and cover the exercises in various chapters. Students are expected to step through assigned chapters and bring any questions to the next class.


Nearly every week, there will be an at-home assignment based on the topic and software covered in class. There will be two longer projects towards the end of the semester. Every at-home assignment will be presented and discussed in the following class; please show up to class with your assignment ready to present your project.


At the end of the semester, students will be required to turn in a PDF portfolio of all the semesters’ assignments with their final project.

Evaluation and grading

Students will be graded on class participation, case studies, completion of assignments, as well as craft and attention to detail.

Weekly Syllabus

9.1:  Course overview & intro to visual communication

Digital Foundations Chapter 1 

Project: Learning to Love You More, No. 63

Last 15 minutes: Visit from Jackson about printing, color and color optional; If working with color, only 1 color round on 11x17” is allowed. PROOF JUDICIOUSLY IN BLACK AND WHITE; 

The print deadline to Jackson is 11:59pm TUESDAY NIGHT.

Font Resources (remember you only need one)
Font Squirrel
Google web fonts
Lost Type
Open Font Library
The League of Moveable Type

9.8: Elements of Visual Communication: Typography

Case Studies: Jenny Holtzer/Ryan, Stefan Sagmeister/Janie

Digital Foundations Chapters 3 & 4

Project: Words to Live By (BW)

Resources: 4x6" and 6"x4" Postcard templates can be found here
Anatomy of type:
Aphorism Cards (you can do better)
Steve Powers (always inspiring)
Design Your Own Typeface
Wired article on Memoire

The Noun Project
Thinking with Type

Designing with Type
Type Foundries
15 Tips to Choose Good Text Type
I Love Typography blog
How to Make a Font
NY Times: The Art of the Word
A Kerning Game
Google Earth in Typography
Video Game for Typography Geeks

Worth a Read/Listen
The 10 Commandments of Typography
What Font is Your City
A Face Lift for The Times, Typographically, That Is –
What Does Your Typeface Say About You?
What Type Are You?
New York Times: Mistakes in Typography Grate the Purists
Are There Certain Typefaces that Make us Believe?

9.15: Elements of Visual Communication: Color

Case Studies: Spencer Finch/Louay, Rafael Rozendaal/Rohail

Digital Foundations Chapter 5

Project: The Color of ____________

Use any materials necessary, if working with color printouts, only 1 color around on 11x17” is allowed

9.22: Elements of Visual Communication: Composition

(quick in-class check-ins)

Case Studies: Rudy VanderLans & Zuzana Licko/Kim; Tadanori Yokoo/Katherine

Digital Foundations Chapters 13 & 14

Project: Lost Elephant (BW)

9.29: Elements of Visual Communication: Text and Image

Case Studies: Sister Serpents/Georgie, Ed Ruscha/Caroline

Digital Foundations Chapters 2, 8-11

Project: Funhouse mirror  Letter-sized BW

10.6: Information Graphics: Signage, Instructions & Diagrams

Case Studies: Mark Lombardi/Asad, Steve Lambert/Iliyana

Digital Foundations Chapter 6

Project: Just Do It (Color optional)


"Why the Same Three Typefaces Are Used in Almost Every Airport"
Typography for Signage
Steve Powers

International Picture Language by Otto Neurath (full PDF)
HIstory of Isotypes
Isotype Revisited

Edward Tufte
Visualizing Information for Design Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design (PDF)
Difference between Infographics and Data Visualization
Using data visualization for social change
Information Is Beautiful

Do It
Fluxus Workbook

10.13: Visual Communication forms: Identity and Branding

Case Studies: Superflex/Alex, Yomango/Lazar

Project: ID It (Color)

10.20: Midterm meetings

Midterm meetings will be a combination of mid-point check-in and personal critiques on assignment progress + SEPC conversation


11.3: Visual Communication forms: Editorial Design & Propaganda

Case Studies: Barbara Kruger/Faruk, Gran Fury/Bailey

Project: What Can You Stand For? (Color optional)

11.10: Visual Communication forms: Graphic Narrative

Present Propaganda Projects

Project: Microfictions (Color Optional)

11.17: Semester Review

Final project assignment


12.1: Desk crits 


REFERENCES: Great blogs for design inspiration:

Design Taxi

Design Observer


Grain Edit


Design Boom

Designing Devices

Design Thinking

Fast Company Design


Form Fifty Five

Graph Paper

Graphic Exchange

It’s Nice That

Many Stuff




Studio 360