Comm 4660/6660
Fall 2012

Meeting times
Mon/Thurs 2:00-3:50pm
Aug 27 to Dec 18, 2012
Some field trips will be scheduled during this session, and may take place outside of scheduled meeting times.

Leah Rico
Sage 4602
Office hours: Tues 12pm-2pm or by appointment

Course description

Visual literacy is the ability to critically view and analyze images that communicate meaning. In this course, you will learn some of the existing cross-disciplinary theories for viewing and producing images used for communication purposes.

This course will also focus on the practice of design thinking. Development of design thinking skills involves your ability to interrogate the world, to find the real problems underneath the given problems and to challenge what others think. For commercial designers, this must be done with diplomacy, creativity and practicality.

Through analysis and production projects, discussions, and critiques, you will learn to articulate effectively, both verbally and through production, meaning through images.

Learning outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students will

  • Critically analyze images in writing and orally using visual literacy theory
  • Discuss theoretical readings on visual literacy theory
  • Apply visual literacy theory to design images for different types of rhetorical contexts and media
  • Design and manage a creative project from conception to production within a limited timeframe
  • Use fieldwork and research to critically identify and assess a design problem
  • Work with stakeholders, constituents and their own design teams collaboratively
  • Use the Adobe Creative Suite, HTML and CSS as tools in the development and production of visual design projects.

Course blog
To keep information current and sharing open, this course has a course blog here. 
You are welcome to contribute to the course blog by sharing articles, information, tutorials, events, inspiration or any other content relevant to the course. Dialogue on the blog should be treated with the same respect and understanding as interactions in the classroom.

To keep the class organized and informed, you will be required to supply an email address that you check frequently. This is to ensure that scheduling changes and important information reaches you. If you have missed class, it is particularly important that you check your email for changes. Confidential emails may also be sent regarding individual projects or your status in the course.


  • Notebook or sketchbook
  • Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Premium (optional)
  • Black mounting board
  • Other presentation materials, as dictated by student proposed projects.

Technical requirements
Class work must be completed with the industry-standard application for layout (Adobe InDesign); image editing (Adobe Photoshop); and drawing (Adobe Illustrator). 
All Adobe software is available in the VAST Lab, which you have access to anytime during this course. Please keep in mind that students in this course represent varied levels of expertise with the digital toolset, which will be reflected in the course content. You may bring your laptop to class.

Reading list

  • Berman, David. do good design: How Designers Can Change the World. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2009.
  • Dondis, Donis A. Primer of Visual Literacy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1973.
  • Ericson, Magnus and Ramia Mazé. Design Act: Socially and politically engaged design today—critical roles and emerging tactics. Berlin, Deutschland: Sternberg Press, 2011.
  • Evans, Chris and Steve Garner. Design and Designing: A Critical Introduction. London, UK: Berg Publishers, 2012.
  • Hall, Sean. This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. London, UK: Laurence King, 2007.


  • burrough, xtine and Michael Mandiberg. Digital Foundations: Intro to Media Design with the Adobe Creative Suite. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2009. Also available at
  • Elam, K. Geometry of Design. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.
  • Lupton, Ellen and Jennifer Cole. Graphic Design: The New Basics. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.
  • Pipes, Alan. How to Design Websites. London, UK: Laurence King Publishing, 2011.
  • Samara, T. Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop. Gloucester: Rockport, 2002.
  • Williams, R. The Non-Designer’s Type Book: Insights and techniques for creating professional-level type. Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 2006.

Course policies
In order to receive full credit for an assignment, you must complete all parts. Failure to do so will result in a grade of “No Credit.” To pass this course, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Attend all required class sessions on time. If you miss 3 or more classes, your class participation grade will be zero (F). Being late 3 times by 15 minutes or more will constitute an unexcused absence. Leaving early (without advance approval) or taking a break from class for more than 10 minutes (without approval) will also constitute an absence. If a circumstance arises and you cannot attend class, you must present an official excuse from the school. Documentation for excused absences are processed by the Student Experience Office (4th floor of Academy Hall, x8022,
  • Complete all coursework by the due date; be prepared for class. Assignments are due on or before the date indicated on the schedule. If you receive an unsatisfactory grade on any assignment that you turn in, you have one week to revise and resubmit your work.
  • Rensselaer encourages collaboration, and it is good training for your professional career. For collaborative projects assigned for this course, I expect all members of the group to share the work equally. If any problems occur that you are unable to resolve amongst yourselves, please let me know immediately.

Statement on academic integrity
Student-teacher relationships are built on trust. For example, students must trust that teachers have made appropriate decisions about the structure and content of the courses they teach, and teachers must trust that the assignments that students turn in are their own. Acts that violate this trust undermine the educational process. The Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities defines various forms of Academic Dishonesty, which you should make yourself familiar with.

In this class, all assignments that are turned in for a grade must represent the student’s own work. In cases where help was received, or teamwork was allowed, a notation on the assignment should indicate your collaboration. If a submission of any assignment is in violation of this policy, the student will have one week to turn in his or her own work and will be penalized one full letter grade. Failure to do so will result in an “F” for that project. If you have any question concerning this policy before submitting an assignment, please see me.

The scale below will be used for your final grade:
A = 4.0, A- = 3.67, B+ = 3.33, B = 3.0, B- = 2.67, C+ = 2.33, C = 2.0,
C- = 1.67, D+ = 1.33, D = 1.0, F = 0

Your assignments will be evaluated using the following numerical scale:
4, 3, 2, 1, 0 or NA (4= Excellent; 3= Good; 2= Average; 1=Need Improvement; 0= No credit)

Each assignment will be evaluated according to good visual conventions, good verbal conventions and your professionalism in production and presentation.

If you receive a 4 for a single category (e.g. visual conventions), that means you’ve mastered it. However, if you receive a 3, 2, or 1, that means there’s room for improvement and you should consider revising your work. If you receive an overall unsatisfactory grade on any assignment, you have one week to revise and resubmit it.

If you have questions about your grade at any time during the semester, please contact me immediately.

Class participation: 30%
Constructively critique the creative work of peers and professionals. Participate professionally in group discussions of readings. Complete all weekly assignments with thought and to the best of your ability (and on time!) Use your sketchbook to creatively problem solve by illustrating your ideas and to present your work in progress to the instructor.

Demonstrate effort, be creative, work hard.

Assignment sheets will provide detailed guidelines for the following projects. See course schedule for due dates.

Project 1: Making Policy Public, worth 15%

Project 2: Ubiquitous Computing , worth 25%

Project 3: Local Cook Book, worth 30%

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