Graphic Design and Rhetoric—English 492

Next offered: Fall 2021  (syllabus)
Last offered: Fall 2020


As Brian S. Reed tells us, “Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.” This class is for writers interested in the visual dimensions of texts and the skills involved in designing them well. The course considers graphic design theory and history from a rhetorical perspective, working to understand and practice the use of symbol systems to express, inform, and advocate. 

In addition to traditional academic reading, research, and writing, we  complete a series of design experiments, playing with the ideas and techniques we study. No prior design or technical training is required. Course workload generally includes regular readings, short essays, design experiments, a design portfolio, and a final exam.

Class Meetings

Class meetings will alternate between small-group discussions that reflect on and respond to our class readings; peer review and draft workshops for short essays and digital experiments; and full-class discussions that tie together the broader analytical framework of the course and the various digital experiments and assignments.

Students said

“As a computer science major, I really appreciated the opportunity to study some of the many intersections of writing and technology. We covered several topics in your courses (technofeminism, accessibility, UI/UX design, inclusive rhetoric) that, I think, should be regularly included in a computer scientist's education! I'm grateful that I was able to learn more about these concepts through your classes.” (Fall 2020)

Learning Outcomes

Students will learn the foundational concepts of document design and typography and will, through collaborative and individual experimentation, learn to put those theories into practice.

Examples of Student Work

This digital portfolio was created by a teacher who intends to teach English abroad. 
This portfolio includes a typeset experiment, a logo design experiment, and reflections on found designs.
This portfolio includes critique of found design essays, a business-card design, and an Instagram story version of a New York Times essay. 

Background image is of a DEC PDP-11/34 minicomputer, data drive storage cabinet, modem, a covered typewriter, and DECwriter terminal under a window with mustard yellow curtains open to show a sunny day. The photo was taken circa 1984 in the basement playroom of my childhood home.