California Institute of the Arts
The Language of Design: Form and Meaning
California Institute of the Arts

The Language of Design: Form and Meaning

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Gain insight into a topic and learn the fundamentals

Randy Nakamura
Yasmin Khan Gibson

Instructors: Randy Nakamura


(799 reviews)

Beginner level
No prior experience required
8 hours to complete
3 weeks at 2 hours a week
Flexible schedule
Learn at your own pace

What you'll learn

  • Recall and explain a lexicon of key terms relating to form, meaning, and audience, and apply them successfully within an appraisal of graphic design

  • Establish and articulate criteria for successful outcomes in a design project that are not limited by personal taste.

  • Employ various ways of talking about visual form, meaning, and context for a given work of design in an objective way. 

  • Develop an ability to engage with a work of design in an objective way.

Details to know

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4 quizzes

Taught in English

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There are 5 modules in this course

In this module we'll explain what this course is about and share guidelines surrounding our expectations for course communication and assignment submissions.

What's included

7 videos8 readings1 discussion prompt

This module provides an introduction to the larger ideas and cultural discussions that graphic design work inhabits, and some terms and ideas used within graphic design. We won't be covering a comprehensive dictionary of graphic design terms, but rather introducing a functional language used in the discussion of graphic design in a critique context. We will also discuss and analyze specific works of design and how they relate to the larger cultural context in which design operates, and why this is important. We will also learn about critique culture, and the importance of analyzing work based on subjective criteria rather than personal taste or subjective opinions.

What's included

5 videos2 readings1 quiz1 peer review1 discussion prompt

In this module we will introduce key concepts and terms used in the critique of visual form in design work. We will cover basic terms used in the discussion of visual contrast, composition, and hierarchy. We will also discuss how to establish a vocabulary for the evaluation of visual form, and use that vocabulary in conjunction with the designer’s intention and the function of the work to build a framework to structure critique.

What's included

11 videos2 readings1 quiz

In this module we will focus on ways to describe and evaluate meaning in works of visual design. Using connotation and denotation as a foundation, the lessons in this module explain a range of approaches for creating meaning, from visual metaphor to cliche and parody. By building cultural literacy and developing research skills, we will practice identifying themes in design work and interpreting design concepts.

What's included

5 videos2 readings1 quiz1 peer review

In this final module, you will synthesize all of the skills you have acquired in the previous modules into a structured critique of graphic design work. As you will see, this module is weighted much more heavily toward assessment and practice than previous modules. Assessing the success of a finished piece of design is difficult because there are so many variables to consider at the same time. You have learned the basic lexicon and syntax for talking about design. Now is the time to put all of these skills together to talk about a piece of design in a holistic and effective way.

What's included

7 videos1 quiz1 peer review


Instructor ratings
4.7 (237 ratings)
Randy Nakamura
1 Course109,747 learners
Yasmin Khan Gibson
1 Course109,747 learners

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