Syllabus link Schedule link Assignments link
Graphic design has a synergistic relationship with the social milieu in which it occurs. It is shaped and formed by its culture. In turn, it helps shape and form the culture. It is neither an art nor a science; rather it is a hybrid form of public communication that calls upon its practioners to be visual editors, graphic inventors, and form builders… Graphic design flourishes when cultures invest in the aesthetics of public experience and when a society understands that the resonance from how things are said is as important as what is said.
— Philip B. Meggs from Type and Image: The Language of Graphic Design


Jennifer Sheppard
Office: English 119
Phone: 646-2317
Office Hours: MW 11:30-1:00, F 12:00-1:00, and by appointment





  • Kostelnick, Charles, and David Roberts. Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communicators. Allyn & Bacon, 1998.
  • Williams, Robin. The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice. Peachpit Press, 1994.
  • Course packet available at Kinko’s

Optional (but strongly recommended):

  • Koren, Leonard, and R. Wippo Meckler. Graphic Design Cookbook: Mix & Match Recipes for Faster, Better Layouts. Chronicle Books, 1989.


Course Description


Although the course name emphasizes the design aspect of document creation, this class more broadly concerns rhetorically effective communication. Our work throughout the semester will focus on strategies for evaluating and developing documents that engage and inform readers/users in a variety of circumstances.

Throughout the term we will use readings, hands-on activities, and course projects to study and apply various approaches to visual communication. We will spend considerable time discussing readings and the design principles highlighted by these authors. We will use this material as a basis for critiquing and evaluating the document design work of others, as well as for learning how to apply and/or adapt such strategies to our own work. Our focus will be on learning to craft documents that integrate effective visual and written strategies to create a complete and compelling message.

Please keep in mind that while the term document has connotations of print-based texts, visually-oriented digital texts are coming to dominate our communication landscape. For this reason, the course will include significant attention to electronic texts and the technological tools used to create them. In addition to several assignments focused on print-based documents, we will also use digital projects to explore the added communicative complications of designing electronic multimedia texts.


Course Goals


  • To identify and apply basic design principles
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of a document’s overall design for a particular rhetorical situation
  • To develop strategies for integrating visual and written communication in ways that are attentive to the needs of a given audience and purpose
  • To become familiar with research on design, usability, and visual communication
  • To become comfortable designing and producing a wide variety of document types according to conventions of the relevant genre
  • To understand both when and how it is appropriate to break with conventional approaches to design


Major Assignments


  • Reading and Class Participation (10%)- I selected a wide range of reading material for this course so that we could explore various approaches to design and visual rhetoric from multiple perspectives. I assign reading as a way of introducing design issues, helping you to think more critically about the communication concepts it represents, and preparing you for class discussion. It is therefore critical to your success in this course to complete all assigned readings for a given day before coming to class.
  • Design Analysis Notebook (20%)- This notebook is intended as a place to collect both good and bad examples of design in a wide range of documents. I encourage you to gather as many samples as you can from as many sources as possible. Additionally, you will use the notebook and approximately one example per week (12 total) to analyze the design choices in a document, to make connections to our readings, and to reflect on our class discussions.
  • Business Card (5%)- Applying basic design principles outlined in Williams’ Non-Designer’s Design Book, this first hands-on project asks you to create a rhetorically meaningful business card for yourself or a client.
  • Résumé or Curriculum Vita (10%)- Being attentive to more sophisticated design principles suggested by Kostelnick & Roberts, Meggs, Kinross, and others, this assignment asks you to create an informative and visually-appealing résumé for yourself or a client.
  • Brochure for NMSU Writing Center (15%)- This assignment asks you to work in groups of two to three to create a
  • Web Site (10%)- Taking into consideration our discussions about the design challenges unique to creating web-based communication, you will work with a group of two to three to develop a small (3-5 pages) web site for yourselves or a client.
  • Outside Client Project (25%)- Working in a group of two to three people, you will locate a client needing some kind of document design work (i.e. a web page, newsletter, suite of forms or brochures, etc.) and use what you have learned in the course to develop those documents. This project will include a written proposal, several draft versions, a presentation, and a final design justification memo.
  • Final Presentation with Visuals (5%)- Taking place during the last regular week of the semester, this assignment calls on your outside client project group to create and deliver a presentation about your work. Its evaluation will emphasize preparedness, organization, and the quality of your accompanying visuals (PowerPoint or other multimedia, posters, handouts, etc.).




I have constructed this course so as to provide you with a rich resource of perspectives and ideas, as well as to give you multiple opportunities to develop your strategies through practice in designing a variety of document types for a variety of rhetorical situations. I view reading assignments, class activities, and course projects as occasions for you to explore and apply various approaches to design and communication. It is therefore critical that you not only complete all assignments, but that you come to class prepared and ready to participate.

Similar to writing, I see document design as a process in which the overall message of a text improves through collaboration, attention to thoughtful critique, and multiple drafts. I encourage revision on all major course projects, even after a grade has been given. You may re-submit work for a higher grade as long as it represents a serious effort on your part to re-see or re-envision your approach to a document’s design and communication.

In addition to design assignments, part of your final grade will be determined by your level of class and group participation. To do well in this course you will need to:

  • be in class and be on time (excessive absences will hurt your grade)
  • be a voracious explorer of design, gathering examples and ideas from multiple sources and constantly trying out new approaches & possibilities
  • be a generous and enthusiastic collaborator during class activities, discussions, and group projects
  • be thoughtful, critical, and timely in your approach to projects and revisions

The course schedule is arranged so that assignments build upon one another. This means it is important for you to turn in work when it is due. However, we all know that disruptive situations sometimes arise. With the exception of presentations or in-class activities (which cannot be made-up), I will accept late work only if prior arrangements have been made. To get an extension, you must email me or write a short memo asking for an extension AND proposing a reasonable deadline for completing work (which you then must keep).




Several of the course projects require you work with at least one other classmate. I have done this not only because it reflects working conditions you are likely to encounter in professional environments, but also because it is an important way of learning. Each of you has different strengths, talents, and experiences which you bring to class. By working with others, you can pool these resources and hopefully create documents that are more effective and sophisticated than you might otherwise be able to do on your own. Although collaborative work can bring with it additional challenges, I believe that learning to negotiate these with others is a valuable part of your experience.




I tend to think of digital technology as seductive in the sense that it is extremely easy to get so wrapped up in the software and hardware that all attention to the communication and theory aspects disappears. While we will spend some time in class working with graphic, page layout, and web-editing applications, this is not a course on software. You should keep in mind that you will likely need to spend several hours per week (6-8 hours on average) outside of class time learning and using various applications and technologies. There is no shortcut to becoming adept at utilizing technology to create effective communication, but the more effort you put into it, the more return you will see in the success of your documents.




As computers and the web have made it increasingly easy to read, see, and borrow the work of others, what constitutes plagiarism has also become more difficult to define. This is even more problematic when it comes to issues of design and visual elements. However, any attempt to knowingly copy the work, ideas, or designs of someone else without giving appropriate credit to the source is plagiarism. Plagiarism is not only a serious academic offense, but it also cheats you out of learning, the prime reason you are here in the first place.




If you have or believe you have a disability and need reasonable accommodation for equal access to activities or resources in this course, you can contact the Office for Services with Disabilities located at Garcia Annex (646-6840). You may also want to discuss this in confidence with the instructor and/or the Director of Disable Students Programs. All inquiries and notifications will remain confidential. For more information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you can call 646-3635.