Thomas Martinez Pilnik

DES 323g: Design Theory


Professor: Thomas Martinez Pilnik

Office: Harris Hall or By Appointment
Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday 1-2PM
Contact Info: or (434) 270-4520
Response Time: Within 24 Hours

Blackboard Link

Communication Philosophy: My door is open and I am here to support your journey not only into design & aesthetic theory but also throughout college. Please get in touch when you need to, support each other often, and together we will cultivate a supportive classroom environment

Student Feedback: Each semester, I incorporate student feedback into my course and deeply value your input throughout the semester, during mid-term evaluations, and at the end of the semester.

Note: This syllabus is meant to serve as an outline and guide for the course. Please note that the instructor may modify it at any time with reasonable notice to students. The instructor may also modify the Schedule at any time to accommodate the needs of the class. Should you have any questions or concerns about the syllabus, it is your responsibility to contact the instructor for clarification

Course Description

This course provides a comprehensive study of visual communication focusing on graphic design from 1900 to the present. We will introduce you to design thinking, language, and principles including political and cultural implications.

Through lectures, demonstrations, and critiques, students learn traditional design elements, while also surveying major design periods through history. Students learn how design elements play a part in historical eras within architecture, graphic design, and fine arts. The course serves as a theoretical foundation for future design courses by furnishing students with the necessary background to confidently and independently craft their way forward.

This course will also push students into modernity: by subverting white & western norms of design theory, we will - as a class - explore contemporary social movements through a theoretical design lens. By pushing the boundaries of classical design theory, this course serves to prepare students to construct a personal praxis in order to design into the 21st century and beyond.


Learning Outcomes

  1. Demonstrate skills associated with close and critical reading

  2. Demonstrate expanded confidence listening and contributing to the discussion of complex theoretical texts

  3. Draw meaningful and critical connections between theoretical material and the history and practice of design

  4. Analyze and explain key theoretical concepts and principles of design and how they affect practices of visual design and meaning making

  5. Write critically, confidently, independently, and creatively about the intersection of design and theory

  6. Apply an independent praxis to future independent design work and be a voice for the future of design 

Recommended Preparation & Proficiencies

  • Design training, education, and/or practice; oral, written, and visual communication skills; presentation skills.

  • General knowledge of Adobe Suite is recommended, Roski will provide all students with free access to programs.

  • Additionally, we will be using Keynote/PowerPoint, Google Docs or MS Word, Google Spreadsheet or Excel, cellphone with web, camera, and video capabilities

Course Notes and Teaching Strategies

This class is offered for a Letter Grade Only
We will be meeting in person for almost every session but will incorporate some flipped classroom models with online lectures, resources, Blackboard use, and other educational resources

Lecture slides and additional resources will be posted on blackboard

Announcements will be posted on Blackboard and emailed concurrently

Any readings outside of required books will be posted on Blackboard

Some classes may meet via Zoom due to guest lecturer availability, this will be announced via blackboard and email and links will be included

This class will be discussion based and participation is core to that. I will attempt to employ multiple pedagogical strategies throughout the semester to ensure all students feel included and able to contribute. We all learn differently, and I will account for that.

Reading is central to understanding theory, so please make sure to arrive prepared and with a couple of key talking points, questions, or platforms to initiate critical discussion.