A Mini Course in
Visual Communications

A sequence of problems to indoctrinate students in the concept of graphic design as communication


I began constructing this course at the Minneapolis School of Art in 1958. I have taught the course off-and-on ever since. It is most effective taught as a two-semester course. The origins for the course grew out of my education at Yale where Alvin Lustig emphasized Graphic Design as visual communications.

The underlying premise for this course is built on the rationale that poets and writers communicate with words, musicians with sounds and designers with color, shape, and line.

The theoretical concept is based on direct, as opposed to indirect communications. For example, to communicate cold, you would use colors, shapes and line qualities that reflect the meaning of the word. The image generally is abstract. Indirect communication of cold might be representation of an ice cube or a human figure with wavy lines around it. To read the communication, you first would have to know what an ice cube was, or that wavy lines are a symbol for shivering which suggests cold. Students quickly discover that a dictionary is a valuable tool for doing visual communication problems.

Although this is a form of illustration, it should be stressed to students as communication. Reaction to this course by students has always been good. It is an excellent counterpoint to basic design as it is fast paced, varied in content, challenging and tends to create competition among students to come up with the best solutions.

Visual Communications always worked well with other first-year courses. There was carry-over from basic design, drawing and color. Where other theoretical courses dealt mainly with perceptual qualities, Visual Communications stressed conceptual development. I always thought this course provided a good balance between the two. There is strong evidence that what students do in Visual Communications applies to upper level problems and work following graduation.


Program Objectives
Communication through visual images. Graphic Designers should always ask themselves:

What am I trying to communicate?
Am I communicating that message?
Can I communicate more directly and simply?

The main emphasis in this course is learning how to develop, explore and evaluate concepts and present them visually.

Formal values connected with composition, shapes and color. Formal values should be strongly emphasized in this work.

Developing good hand-skills working with cut and torn paper.

Learning design process, how to make refinements.


Cut and torn colored paper. Do not used colored construction paper! Rubber cement, spray mount, scissors, x-acto knife, colored paper similar to Color Aid, and railroad board are the principal tools and materials.

Cut and torn paper were chosen as the medium because it prevents students from tickling the image; it forces them to work more abstractly and it is a working process that encourages a great deal of decision-making as they lay down and pick up elements before doing the final design. Also, it is a relatively fast way of making images.


Working Procedures >  

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