ART548 MFA Graduate Seminar in Communication Design: History & Theory I, Camilla Torna, Fall 2019 | SACI College of Art & Design Florence

ART548 MFA Graduate Seminar in Communication Design: History & Theory I, Camilla Torna, Fall 2019

Legibility / Semantics

"The organization of information actually creates new information."
Richard Saul Wurman


We approach the current shift of paradigm in visual communication by focusing on three areas of expertise: LEGIBILITY READABILITY USABILITY, therefore our methodology is called LRU. The three areas line up conceptually with Vignelli’s SEMANTICS, SYNTACTIC, PRAGMATICS, and historically with the visual literacy before the printed book, during the time of printed information, and finally with the new digital and more visual communication. 

In the Academic Seminar students focus on each area one semester at the time.


By the end of the semester students will gain a broader knowledge of Communication Design in its historical development up to now. Communication Design calls for new innovative professionals who can act as visual authors, able to think strategically in design terms to inform, inspire, entertain, activate, envision future scenarios, or map invisible patterns of reality. It makes sense to us to start this training by questioning and analyzing the recent developments with a critical look at the origins of Western visual conventions, highlighting not obvious connections between communications separated in time and space. Moreover, never like today other disciplines enrich and interact with the profession. Students are encouraged to broaden their research with an interdisciplinary perspective.


Each week MFA students prepare 4 SLIDES (images + text)  based on assigned readings.

Guest Lectures

Sept 17 – Margherita Abbozzo on Sacred Geometry
Nov 12 – Kidstudio on Branding

Field Trips

Oct 3/4 - Torino Graphic Days
Nov 26/30 – Vienna,
visit to Design and Advertising studios


It is not necessary to purchase the books on the reading list in the schedule below. All required readings are provided by the SACI Worthington Library and/or the instructor.


(Please note: schedule is subject to change)

[ 01 ] SEPT 10
INTRO communication design
Why Pinocchio and Piero della Francesca? Information and communication. The LRU Methodology.

Marshall Mc Luhan, The Medium is the Message, 1967
Ben Garland, First Things First Manifesto, 1964/2000
Roland Barthes, The Rhetoric of the Image, 1964
Massimo VIgnelli, Canon (first part), 2010
Bruno Munari, Air Made Visible

[ 02 ] SEPT 17
INTRO raw elements
Lecture by Margherita Abbozzo
on Sacred Geometry
Basic semantic elements.

Adrian Frutiger, Signs and Symbols (chapters I + III)
Bruno Munari, Square CIrcle Triangle

[ 03 ] SEPT 24
WHO on perception
The eye and the brain: bottom-up and top-down theories. What is a line?

Susan Weinschenk, 100 Things
William Lidwell, et al. Universal Principles of Design, 2003
Erik Kessels, Failed it! How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up, Phaidon Press Ltd, 2016

[ 04 ] OCT 1
WHO color: nature and culture
The more you study color, the more there is to know. Color as light, color as matter.

Edith Anderson Feisner, Color 
Michel Pastoreau Green, The History of a colour, (Black 2009) 2014


[ 05 ] OCT 8
WHO semiotics: the cultural glasses
The hidden meaning in everything - from suntan to perspective.

Sean Hall, This means this, this means that

[ 06 ] OCT 15
WHAT Graphic design
Grids and Typography

Simon Garfield, Just my Type
Ellen Lupton, Thinking with Type
Erik Spiekermann, Stop Stealing Sheep
Alan Fletcher, Picturing and Poeting
Timothy Samara, Making and Breaking the Grid
Jim Williams, Type matters

[ 07 ] OCT 22
Graphic design
Each decade from 1950 as posing a different question on the profession.

One of the graphic designers books listed in the Library.
More general reference:
Philip Meggs, A History of Graphic Design
Ellen Lupton, Abbott Miller, Design Writing Research
Phaidon, Area 2:100 graphic designers, 10 Curators, 10 Design classics, Phaidon, 2008

[ 08 ] MIDTERM BREAK for undergraduates (October 26 - November 3)
Steven Heller + Mirco Ilič, Anatomy of Design
Bryony Gomez-Palacios, Graphic Design Referenced
Michael Bierut, 79 Short Essays on Design

[ 09 ] NOV 5
WHAT Branding
From Corporate to Liquid Identity: a survey on designers’ metaphors for shaping a brand.

Bruce Mau, Life Style
Michael Johnson, Branding in Five and a Half Steps

[ 10 ] NOV 12
WHAT  information design: wayfinding and maps
What happens when you arrive at an airport? In a museum? When you want to cross the street? 

Design giving the right directions, mapping spaces and helping you find your way.

Joel Katz, Designing Information    
Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art + CD
Cathryn Coates & Andy Ellison, An Introduction to Information Design
Sandu Publishing Co. Ltd, The Art of Calendar Design, Gingko Press, 2015

[ 11 ] NOV 19
WHAT mapping ideas
The shift from mapping spaces to mapping ideas.

Manuel Lima, Visual Complexity + The Book of Trees    
Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information
David Mc Candless, The Visual Miscellaneum
Manuel Lima, The Book of Trees

[ 12 ] NOV 26
WHAT  the new school: design for change 
Designers that want to make the world a better place.

Nader Vossoughian, Otto Neurath 
John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity + Stem to Steam
Tim Brown, Change by Design    
Ellen Lupton, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming 
David Berman, Do Good    


[ 13 ] DEC 3
The ancient art of persuasion. New trends.

Eliza Williams, This is Advertising

[ 14 ] DEC 10
Work in class on final presentation

[ 15 ] DEC 17

1-hour Presentation

  • Selection of slides about readings
  • Studio projects from Studio Seminar
  • DIS projects
  • Design class projects


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