Teaching Design History

Cubism applied to jazz (1926) and the Hip Hop aesthetic (21st century).

One of the graphic design projects I most enjoy teaching is a book design project where students collaborate to write brief introductory texts for assigned time periods in the history of graphic design, then source images to illustrate the texts and create an editorial slant of their own. Naturally, they also design the book itself, and we use a print-on-demand service to produce the 36-page books. Otherwise generic texts can be curated to show how graphic design and fashion design overlap, how women have been active in graphic design, how astronomers have used graphic design strategies to visualize the universe, or how restrictive the history of Euro-American design really is when contextualized globally. When I presented this project and a cross-section of its results as a case study at a conference, looked back over past iterations and reflected on what I learned from them. One of my all-time favorite results is a 2018 student book showing how Black designers create dialogues with the history of graphic styles through the posters and album covers they design for contemporary hip-hop music. Teaching is a learning experience, and that’s why I love it. I constantly seek ways to diversify the projects I assign and the examples I show to be reflective of my students, their experiences, and the global community in which we live. But though my introductory lecture asked students to reflect (among many other things) on why images by Black designers don’t show up in generic histories of design, I never would have imagined this specific concept as a potential example of the “graphic histories” book project and I learned so much from the student who did.

About the images: 1926 New Yorker cover deploys the Cubist style. DJ Spinna fan art poster is by prop4g4nd4 on DeviantArt. Omar Musa’s World Goes to Pieces album was released by OBM Music in Australia, 2010.

By dorigriffin

Graphic designer, design historian, bibliophile, typophile, classical music groupie.